Over the next few weeks we’re going to look at some of the linebacker prospects that could be on Seattle’s radar beyond round one. The Seahawks are looking for more speed in the front seven and with David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill both pending free agents, linebacker could become a key need by April. We’ll look at Florida State’s Nigel Bradham, Oklahoma’s Ronnell Lewis, Texas’ Keenan Robinson, Miami’s Sean Spence and a few others who could be potential draft picks after the first round. Today, we’re starting with California’s Mychal Kendricks - one of the combine’s top performers last week.
Game tape vs USC
Game tape vs Stanford
Tape courtesy of JMPasq Aaron Aloysius
Kendricks is a senior prospect who played inside linebacker at California. However, a highly athletic performance at the combine has led to many questioning whether he can transition to any of the linebacker positions, given his straight line speed, mobility in coverage and untapped potential. He ran an official 4.47 in Indianapolis but was timed as fast as 4.41, he had the best vertical jump (39.5 inches), the best broad jump (10ft 7 inches) and the best 20-yard shuttle (4.19 seconds) among linebackers. He had 24-reps on the bench press. You can watch highlights of his forty yard dash by clicking here.
Typically players get asked at the combine who they model their game on, and this leads to inevitable comparisons to the NFL’s elite. Kendricks name-check for Patrick Willis isn’t particularly interesting, but the second part of his answer is: “Willis, that’s who I look up to. I feel like I can move the same way. Very fast, very quick, cat-like, that’s my style of play. I look at him and it’d be nice to be fraction of what he is. I’m a hard worker, tough, I want to win. I’m a competitor. I’ve been a competitor and I think my character will show for itself once I get picked up. I’m not going to sit here and harp on my character, but I mean, they can ask around and they can see I’m a good guy. I don’t get in much trouble, keep to myself, and just I just take care of business.”
We all know Pete Carroll loves a competitor and he ticks the boxes in that sense – these aren’t empty words. Lost among a disappointing season for the Golden Bears was the fact Kendricks won PAC-12 defensive player of the year. He was known to be a strong, vocal leader at Cal who often spoke his mind. For those wondering, it’s not evidently clear if he was recruited by Carroll at USC and he only had official visits to Oregon and California. He had offers from Oregon State, Fresno State and San Diego State.
He’s listed at 5-11 and weighs around the 240lbs region. When you watch the tape you instantly recognise his toughness - Kendricks isn’t someone who makes spectacular plays (only three total sacks in 2011 and two interceptions), but he’ll knife through a gap to hit a running back and he’ll chase from sideline-to-sideline to help make a tackle. He had 106 total tackles as a senior – not a total shock given his position – but it paints the picture of a player leading from the front. Kendricks does a good job changing direction and accelerating to react to a play and although he can do a better job sifting through traffic, he’s got the quicks to take advantage of an opportunity when presented.
While he didn’t do a lot of edge rushing at Cal, I think it’s something he can bring to the table particularly if he adapts to OLB or plays certain looks in the role. The key is going to be learning to use leverage at his height and whether he can consistently exploit speed against pro-lineman if he doesn’t have the reach or strength to stay clean. I’d like to see him in a defense like Seattle’s that will eat up space through the middle, look to provide a greater edge rush in 2012 and potentially have more speed at linebacker. Kendricks ability to read/react and then explode would add another dimension in the second level and another pass rushing weapon even if he plays the MIKE.
He’s generally a sure tackler but there are occassions when he gets sloppy and doesn’t wrap up, but part of this is down to the sheer amount of time he spent on the field last year. There are some concerns about asking him to cover a big tight end at the next level because he’ll be over-matched in space, but he’s got the ability to drop and react and he’s fairly fluid in his mobility to offer some value in coverage.
The Seahawks are looking for toughness, speed and intensity – and Kendricks has the full package. If they’re looking for a draft-replacement for David Hawthorne, Kendricks could very easily be the man to fit in there. Given his athleticism and potential to take on greater responsibility rushing the edge, there’s no reason why he couldn’t adapt to the WILL on certain downs. He’s expected to leave the board at some point in round two so if the Seahawks want him, they may have to take him with their second pick.