Draft Spotlight: Mychal Kendricks, LB, Cal

April 11th, 2012 | Written by Kip Earlywine

Written by Kip Earlywine

Rundown:   Mychal Kendricks is a senior middle linebacker for the Cal Bears.  He had previously played weak side linebacker in 2009 and 2010.  He was the Pac-12 defensive player of the year in 2011.

Age:  21 (September 28, 1990)

Height:  5’11″

Weight:  239

40 time:  4.47

10 yard split:  1.53

3 cone:  6.68

Vertical Jump:  39.50″

Compilation Videos:

vs. Washington (2010)

vs. Texas

vs. Stanford

vs. USC

Positives:

  • Very fast
  • Freak athlete, high burst, elite level closing speed
  • Thick body type, very strong
  • Warrior mentality, physical and fearless
  • You better get a man on him when he blitzes…
  • Good tackler.  Wraps and drives legs, follows through
  • Legit versatility at Will or Mike… maybe even strong safety

Negatives:

  • Short
  • Maxed out frame
  • Tendency to drop shoulder into blockers instead of shedding them with proper hand use
  • Sometimes his aggressiveness overrules his instincts
  • One dimensional pass rusher
  • Quiet tape, not many splash plays

Mychal Kendricks is the fastest linebacker in the draft, and one of the most athletic prospects in the draft, period.  Kendricks’ 3 cone time is not only by far the best time among all linebackers, it was better than all eighteen 3 cone times posted by free safeties.  Out of 90 total defensive backs, only 8 had faster 3 cone times.  Kendricks also posted impressive split and vertical jump numbers, and his bench press totals were solidly above average among middle linebackers.  In many ways, it wouldn’t be an unfair comparison to call Kendricks a miniature Aaron Curry.  Both were mid round prospects that blew up the combine and saw their draft stock soar.  Curry did so in a much bigger body and as a result his hype got out of hand (though Rob and I both maintained more reasonable grades for Curry back then and were both infuriated by the pick when Tim Ruskell made it).

Only Dontari Poe helped his draft stock more at the combine.  That said, this front office bases it’s evaluation from game tape first and foremost, and given that Kendricks was a Pac-12 player for a USC rival school no less, I’m guessing he’s been on Pete and John’s radar much longer than he’s been on ours.

From film study, you wouldn’t expect Kendricks to run an unofficial 4.41 forty time, one of the fastest times ever for a middle linebacker.  He looks fast, but not any faster than Lavonte David did.  Where Kendricks speed really jumps off the screen is in his acceleration.  He’s at his best in pursuit of a mobile quarterback or a horizontal rushing attempt.

When blitzing, Kendricks explodes through lanes with the same kind of breathtaking raw athleticism boasted by Bruce Irvin.  Kendricks is not a polished pass rusher, but his raw ability is pretty damn impressive, and when he gets clean through the line, it almost always results in a hurry, hit, or sack.  Pete Carroll is very fond of outside blitzes from linebackers, corners and safeties.  Kendricks looks like someone who could be a potentially elite contributor in such a pass rush role.  Though a lack of pass rush repertoire is a common knock on Kendricks, I actually find his pass rush potential to be very exciting- if he’s used right.

Weighing in at 239 pounds, Kendricks would be an undersized middle linebacker in the NFL.  Kendricks has incredible power from his lower body and has strong arms too, but he’ll need to work on his hand use if he wants to remain effective in the middle at the next level, as too often linemen block Kendricks out of a play for too long.  I respect Kendricks for his attitude, he attacks blockers as they approach by lowering his shoulder and attempting to power them off.  That’s he’s successful at it even occasionally at his size is remarkable.  That said, its not good technique and he needs to grow out of that habit at the next level or else he could become a liability in run defense.  This is critical as Kendricks won’t be getting any taller and probably won’t be getting any heavier either.

While Kendricks has the versatility to play Mike, I think he’s best served as a Will in the NFL.  He’ll be blocked by linemen less and will get more opportunities as an outside blitzer.  At middle linebacker, Kendricks was almost exclusively used in zone coverage, which isn’t uncommon for the position.  Zone is a crutch for slower linebackers, and I was disappointed to see that Cal didn’t find ways to use Kendricks in more man coverage opportunities similar to Lavonte David or Bobby Wagner, who both excelled in that regard.

Kendricks plays aggressive and uses his closing speed, tackling technique, and strength to rack up tackles for loss.  He had 14.5 tackles for loss last season, nearly as many as Bobby Wagner had in his two 4-3 Mike seasons combined.  He’s as potent as Sean Spence attacking the line of scrimmage, but with fewer mistakes.

Kendrick’s arms are 1/8″ shorter than Lavonte David’s, and you might remember I listed arm length as a criticism for David when I did my writeup on him yesterday.  That said, I’m not sure if David will ever be big enough to play inside linebacker in the NFL whereas Kendricks could probably handle it, and inside linebackers tend to have significantly shorter arms.  Kendricks’ arm length is roughly average if not better by middle linebacker standards.

There is a warrior spirit in Kendricks.  He plays with a fire that is very slightly reminiscent of Ray Lewis.  He roars after making big plays and gushes intensity.  He doesn’t have the fun pre-game dance or the electrifying huddle ups though.

Its amazing what speed can do for you.  In addition to being a legit Mike or Will, its hard to look at Kendricks combination strengths and weakness and not think about how good he could be at strong safety.  Seattle has that position bolted down with Kam Chancellor and has quality depth in Jeron Johnson.  Still, Pete likes to use defensive packages that include extra defensive backs (Nickle, Dime, and Bandit), so its possible that Kendricks versatility as a possible safety option could hold some appeal there.

In conclusion:

Like Courtney Upshaw, Mychal Kendricks’ combination of determination, power, and aggressive play has commonly led evaluators to identify as him as a Pittsburgh Steelers type of player.  Last year we saw first hand how Seattle transformed its defense by becoming more athletic and more physical.  In that regard, Kendricks’ appeal to the Seahawks is obvious.

However, despite having a lot of nice things to say about Kendricks, I found his overall tape to be slightly underwhelming, at least when compared to Lavonte David.  Kendricks isn’t quite the big play machine I was expecting, and he stood out on Cal’s defense less than I had hoped.  His potential might be the highest of any linebacker in the draft though.  I’d probably give Kendricks a 3rd round grade based on his tape, but his ridiculous athleticism, versatility, and potential make him a solid second round pick.

26 Responses to “Draft Spotlight: Mychal Kendricks, LB, Cal”

  1. brazilianhawk says:

    I love this guy. My favorite Hawks 2th round pick.

    If somehow we could aquire another 2th round pick (say, trading down with Cleveland), could we draft both Lavonte David AND Kendricks? Or would they both be redundant?

    We could put Kendricks in the middle, keeping Wright in the strong side. And David could play Will.

    Is that possible or am I just being greedy?

  2. creid says:

    Good write up Kip, Kendricks makes a lot of sense for the Hawks. He would definitely bring speed and versatility to the LB corps. I prefer him to Lavonte David because I think Kendricks can play WLB, MLB and even some SLB (ala LeRoy hill) in some of the over fronts the Hawks ran last year. David is strictly a WLB in my eyes, though a damn good one. I also think Kendrick’s blitzing ability is superior to David’s, and with the “Red Bryant” front, the more pass rushing threats on the field, the better.

    I take issue with this passage though:

    “In many ways, it wouldn’t be an unfair comparison to call Kendricks a miniature Aaron Curry. Both were mid round prospects that blew up the combine and saw their draft stock soar. Curry did so in a much bigger body and as a result his hype got out of hand.”

    I think there’s a healthy dose of revisionist history going on here. Aaron Curry was an All-American, a Butkus award winner, and a consensus top 10 pick before the combine and further improved his stock there. Both Mel Kiper and Todd McShay had Curry as the #2 overall prospect in January 2009, a month and a half before the combine. Not that I hold Kiper and McShay’s opinions in the highest regard, but they are a pretty good barometer of the national perception of a player.

  3. Christon says:

    Creid – I think you bring up a good point about how Lavonte David is more a one dimensional at WLB and Kendricks could play both positions. Pete prefers players who can play multiple positions – so if both are on the board in the second, my guess is that they would go with Kendricks – although I think David has much better instincts. Anyways, I would be pretty excited about either player thoough.

  4. Attyla the Hawk says:

    Excellent write up Kip!

    I agree, he’s capable of playing either Will or Mike. Like Wright can play Sam or Mike. He doesn’t have KJs length. But then the number of LBs with Kendricks speed can probably be counted on one hand. More than the speed, it’s the explosive acceleration he has as well.

    I agree, he seemed to not benefit much from the offensive line keeping him clean. Maybe it was a scheme thing, or just an overall talent thing. I agree his hand fighting skills are weak. That’s really pretty typical of college guys — kind of like QBs that stare down receivers. And it’s typical of guys with such outstanding physical tools. They can produce without perfecting the technical aspects of their craft at that level.

    The talent disparity can be so great at the college level that there isn’t a sufficient motivation to get good at that. Necessity is the mother of invention and if players don’t need to develop skills to succeed — those skills will underdevelop or atrophy. Given he’s shown a capacity for learning new skills re: changing positions in college — I wouldn’t think it difficult to expect he can pick up these needed technical aspects at the pro level.

    Of course, we have to evaluate what we see, not what we should expect. The criticism is certainly a fair one.

    In our scheme and personnel, the Mike tends to run pretty clean as blockers are tied up along the line. In that respect, his aggressiveness, comfort in the wash of the LOS and ability to explode into a target in a crowd translates almost perfectly. And in truth, that plays into David’s ability to slash through cracks as well. Kendricks looks like he relishes contact. A trait that is highly prized for our scheme.

    Kendricks specific liabilities seem to be minimized relative to Seattle’s scheme than David’s. When I envision our Mike meeting Frank Gore in the A gap, I would much rather it be Kendricks than David. Kendricks looks like he has a much better expected outcome at the moment of truth where yards after contact are made.

    Raw aggression, toughness and desire are traits that can be undervalued. I love how our defense is shaping up, and I believe it’s directly related to an appreciation for that kind of attitude. I had a hard time really getting on board the idea of Upshaw as a Seahawk, but what kept me coming back to him time and again was his intense aggression and toughness. This defense is being remade. The road paved by intensity and aggression as much as freakish size.

    Kendricks looks like a player that not only would fit nicely in that respect, but be capable of amplifying that aspect of our teams’ mentality and attitude even further. In terms of defensive talents with that same capacity, I like Upshaw and Davis (ASU). McClellin to a lesser extent — but still well above average in that ability. These are 4 talents that kind of fit the toughness/aggression blueprint. Of these 4, Kendricks, Davis and McClellin also have elite/top 10 in their class speed. Kendricks being top 5 in the entire NFL.

    And in this respect, these 4 stand out considerably from the Kuechly/David/Brown/Mercilus/Perry prospects — guys that gravitate to the path of least resistance instead of the path that necessarily should be defended. Our defense champions stoutness. Toughness is the fuel that makes that possible. It’s hard to see us taking guys that aren’t as comfortable going through someone as they are around them.

    For a team looking to fill multiple LB/DE positions with good toughness and speed, we couldn’t have picked a better year to do it.

  5. Ian says:

    Attyla the Hawk, where is your blog?

  6. CWU Hawk says:

    I love Kendricks in the second for us, his athleticism and upside ate undeniable. To me he seems like a periodical js/PC pick. Lofas size + the missing athleticism that always hurt lof.

    After the curry pic I remember everyone I read including myself talking about having the best lb core in the league potentially with hill and tats. Or defense could be scary good with couples an Kendricks imo

  7. Bryan says:

    If I had my druthers, our draft looks like this: Upshaw, Kendricks, Lamar Miller (or Polk if Miller is gone) and Ryan Lindley in Rounds 1-4. This of course assumes that Richardson doesn’t fall to us in Rd 1 and the remainder of these prospects are available at our positions in the draft. As a fallback for Polk and Miller, I guess I could see Turbin but I still don’t like his tape.

  8. mark dickinson says:

    I want to trade back for swap of 1st round picks and get a 2nd. I believe i need 17th to 23rd pick in order to get my guy.
    Dont’a Hightower (MIKE)
    Vinnie Curry (LEO)
    Bruce Irving (SAM)
    Nigel Bradham (WILL)
    other 2 picks to get from offense.

  9. Bryan says:

    I missed half my post. The base LB core of Kendricks (WLB), Upshaw (SLB) and K.J. Wright (MLB) would offer a lot of possible permutations, especially with Chancellor playing at the line and ET in the deep role. Malcolm Smith could play into a role on 3rd down. The speed of this lineup would greatly improve our glaring weakness at covering fast TE over the middle last year. The presence of Jones as a 3 tech also brings an interior rush option that has been sorely lacking. The 2012 defense is the most exciting part of the team.

    If we get improved offensive play, the rebuild of the team could be mostly done with a young core a building blocks in place for the long haul. One unspoken aspect of the young team is how this will cause long term issues in resigning players as starting in 2013 some of the PC/JS draft picks need to be resigned to long term contracts.

  10. mark dickinson says:

    A Detroit Lion’s fan mock draft and why a Seahawk fan would be totally intrigue. He was willing to trade up to 12 and would give up 23 and 54 pick for it. His pick would be SS Mark Barron from Alabama. I wonder why he was so desperate?
    Insert Matt Flynns video from a couple of months ago. Its a cold winter night with snow lightly dusting the field. Matt Flynn burns the Detroit secondary for 460 yds and 6 TDs. I m thinking i see this guys point and i like to mention Matt Flynn is a Seahawk now. The only thing that disappointed me was he never made the picks for Seahawks. So i thought i d throw out my mock draft for this scenerio.
    23rd Dont’a hightower (MIKE) Alabama
    43rd Vinny Curry (LEO) Marshall
    54th Bruce Irving (SAM) West Virginia
    75th Nigel Braham (WILL) FSU
    106th Chris Polk RB UW
    181st Ryan Miller OG Colorado
    225th Chandler Harnish QB Northern Illinois
    this wont happen but it was fun to do.

  11. Joe The Jarhead says:

    I feel Kendricks underwhelming tape is a bit decieving. Watch Keuchly- the uniformly touted best pure LB in the draft. He is unspectacular but makes lots of tackles. I believe the best comparison (because the NFL loves its comparisons) is the little MLB that could: Sam Mills. Sam Mills was a beast but never garnered much attention because of his small stature. Kendricks really reminds me a lot of that player, one of my all time faves.

    I believe that Kendricks can utilize his speed and athleticism to negate oncoming blockers. Also remember that we have a HUGE D Line to occupy blockers, and that creates a premium on athletic LB’s making plays in space. Kendricks is sound and my not light up a highlight reel but having a nosey backer just always around the ball is still effective. Quite frankly, someone to force scrambling QB’s to make quicker undesirable throws into coverage, causing rb’s to bubble outside instead of cutting upfield, and to wash through the bodies in the middle to cause havoc are great aspects of the game Kendricks can bring.

    Kendricks also went to Cal so it goes without saying that the intelligence is there. Granted MLB’s don’t need to be field generals anymore, but being able to read o’s and react, call on and off certain blitzes, and being able to manage the d in real time would be huge. I feel that Seattle’s D is building by the ‘Steeler’ model of having 6 or 7 realy tough and effective football players who all contribute greatly but don’t really star. Polamalu is the star of that team, and Earl Thomas is the star of our D. But I feel Kendricks as a player can help create a Seattle D that is greater than the sum of its parts. Another stocky contributors who can make a great play when benefitted from the hard playing of the other memebers of the D.

  12. mark dickinson says:

    I watched a lot of Upshaw Video and what i saw was Dont’a blowing up the play and Upshaw getting the tackle as the running back ran into his blockers. I have no doubt in my mind he would lead the defense on day one. Vinnie Curry is so much more athletic than Clemens, his potential as the next LEO i think would surprise a lot of people. Bruce Irving will need to be coached up but has the pass rush down and speed to cover TEs. Nigel Braham first film i see he blows up RB with a hit that ignites your teams defense. I see him as a special teams guy, backup WILL, and if i want to will train him to backup Kam. I grab Chris Polk for competition because i like Kregg Lumpkin and think Tampa Bay never used him fully. He has great hands and lots of receptions but he never really got to carry the ball. I also see Chester Taylor is FA, always liked him. When he was pushed to backup role and he came in i didnt see any drop in production, if anything his catching ability gave a better dimension. Don’t know how he is today but i like to invite him to camp.

  13. CFR says:

    Upshaw + Kendricks rounds 1/2 would be unreal. Then grab a big back or two in rounds 3 and 4 and use the rest of the picks on all around defensive/offensive line depth

  14. Attyla the Hawk says:

    “I believe the best comparison (because the NFL loves its comparisons) is the little MLB that could: Sam Mills. Sam Mills was a beast but never garnered much attention because of his small stature.”

    My initial comparison was exactly the same player. I don’t typically like to make comparisons like that because they tend to be lazy and infer qualities that don’t apply. No two players are the same and it’s just not an accurate way to predict future success. But he does exhibit that same level of aggression and comfort in between the tackles at the LOS.

    Definitely his attitude is Mills worthy.

  15. SHawn says:

    @mark – that Lions trade is completely plausible. Not a fan of some of your picks, but you are spot on with Hightower. Either playing in the middle, or playing the role Rob describes for Upshaw, I think Hightower is the choice. Im not sure he falls to 23 tho, but if we pick up an extra 2nd, its worth the risk.

  16. DJ says:

    Kendricks and David seem very different to me. Kendricks is hyper-aggressive, has great timing off the snap, is explosively fast. And yet, he seems to miss a lot of tackles or end up one player removed from where the ball is going.

    One of my favorite things about David is his patience in allowing the play to take form before committing to a course of action. And that very often ends with him getting to — not just near — the ball carrier.

    Kendricks is disruptive and creates a lot of pressure, but David gets to the real target more. Which one is more valuable given our current defense?

  17. Creid- IIRC Curry was given a 3rd round grade by the NFL draft advisory committee in December the year he declared. Rob probably remembers better than I do, I could be wrong but that’s what I remember.

  18. creid says:

    Kip, Curry played 4 years at Wake, so he wouldn’t have had to declare or be evaluated by the draft advisory the year he was drafted. Whether or not he went through the evaluation process after his Jr year and didn’t declare, I’m not sure. I just remember him being consider a high 1st rounder by the end of his Sr season and then pushing himself into the top 5 after the combine.

  19. Todd says:

    I really scratch my head at this obsession with Alabama DL/LB’s.

    I see them being the next Courtney Brown/LaVar Arrington.

    Their “domination” in the national title game was more because Jefferson was absolutely awful. He would have made most defenses look good.

    Also having that many other players around you that were good make your job easier. These guys won’t have the same setup. Yes we have a talented defensive core of players, but that entire Alabama defense had elite (college level) players.

    I would prefer a great player on a mediocre team where the other teams game planned for that person specifically and they still made plays.

    I will say this if we draft either Alabama linebacker and they play well for us, I will definitely eat my words and be their fan. But I am really not confident in either’s transition to the NFL where outside run plays will murder them by speedy backs.

    Sorry but no one in the SEC is like LeSean McCoy or Adrian Peterson.

  20. Todd says:

    That being said, I would love to somehow land both David and Kendricks.

    If Richardson falls to us, then it should not be hard moving the pick for either a later first and a 3rd or trading out of the first entirely for a 2nd.

    I know it would never happen but it would be awesome to trade with the Eagles for both of their seconds.

    So we would have 3 2nds. We could get a lot of good players at 43, 46, and 51.

    I think the ability to get 3 solid players (possible starters) vs just 2 is appealing to me. Because the 2nd round is not exactly filled with schmucks, esp this year.

    If we had 3 2nd’s we get 2LB and a DE and still have a 3rd for a TE or DT/CB/RB (BPA of the three) depth

  21. Todd says:

    Sorry to crowd this post. I just looked at the draft chart.

    Our 12th pick is worth 1200 pts

    The Eagles 2 2nd rounders add up to 830pts. So they would need to give us another 370 pts.

  22. Rob says:

    creid – Curry did receive a third round grade as a junior. A lot of underclassmen collect the information and use it to decide whether they want to turn pro.

  23. creid says:

    Rob, I’m familiar with the process, I just didn’t know/remember if Curry explored that avenue.

    I don’t mean to harp on it, and maybe it was just Kip getting things a little mixed up in his memory, but to infer that Curry was considered a mid round prospect going into the combine is wrong.

  24. Rob says:

    Oh for sure, he was virtually a top-ten lock even before the combine. His stock rose gradually throughout the 2008 college season. I was never a big fan, and others I spoke to (including Kip) made similar remarks. But then I wanted Michael Crabtree in a bad way.

  25. Leonard says:

    I really like Kendricks. Much bigger upside than Kuechly. Probably a lower floor thogh. I bet Carroll would be able to put him in the right position to make plays. Carroll’s defense seems to put a premium on players with special attributes, be it speed, strength or size. I think the reason they were so good last year is because they were able to take advantage of their players strengths and hide their weaknesses.