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)
40 time: 4.47
10 yard split: 1.53
3 cone: 6.68
Vertical Jump: 39.50″
- 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
- 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.
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.