The offseason is all but over. Free agency has been and gone and now a new class of rookies will fly into the nest for the first time. But of all the existing players on the roster, there was one who benefited more than anyone else.
That man is Mychal Kendricks.
In 2016, Kendricks was sidelined for most of the season through no real fault of his own. After playing in the dreaded fourth preseason game, the Eagles chose to roll out with Malcolm Jenkins in nickel formations after slot corner Ron Brooks went down with injury, as opposed to keeping Kendricks in the game as a third linebacker. He never had a game in which he registered more than 4 tackles, amassing a career-low 36 tackles and for the first time in his career, he failed to attain a single sack.
Appearing in just 26.8% of snaps, Kendricks seemed expendable. When he was on the field, he was haunted by missed tackles and impressive play by Malcolm Jenkins that forced the hands of his Defensive Coordinator. Something had to change in the offseason…and it did.
Before Kendricks even had a chance to step onto the field, pressure was building. Would the Eagles trade away their 2012 draftee? What could they get for him? At this point he had been shopped around the league for so long that any value would surely be minimal, right? Rumors came and rumors went, but Mychal Kendricks, who now had a big chip on his shoulder, stayed.
In 2017, the former 2nd-round pick came back like a man possessed. A liability in coverage no more, Kendricks forced his way back into the equation during Training Camp and once the green flag dropped on preseason, he let the fans know he wasn’t going anywhere either. Three interceptions in three games saw Kendricks make a very firm statement that he wasn’t intending on spending another year on the sidelines.
77 tackles, 2 sacks and 6 passes defensed sum up a simply remarkable bounce back season for #95. Playing in 59.4% of defensive snaps, Kendricks flashed some of the form last seen in his stunning 2013 breakout season. Schematic shifts and role changes have constantly kept the former Cal Bear guessing and his potential often capped…until Jim Schwartz unleashed it.
Predictably however, the offseason saw yet more Mychal Kendricks speculation. At this stage, even Nostradamus couldn’t predict what his future holds as it seems each and every offseason is filled with reports citing that he could be on the move. With two relatively expensive years left on his deal, many wondered whether a ruthless Howie Roseman would retain him. This, is where the fun begins.
The Eagles have invested heavily at the linebacker position by making Nigel Bradham a centerpiece of the defense for years to come. Jordan Hicks is entering his own contract year and that leaves Kendricks along with a flurry of developmental talent and veteran, Paul Worrilow. It’s safe to say that losing Kendricks would sting, but would the Eagles be looking for a replacement in the offseason? If not, some depth at the very least.
Former Denver Bronco, Corey Nelson, was signed to the roster, as was the aforementioned Worrilow. Neither are really a threat to the homing missile that Mychal Kendricks has become and while Nelson could be a fun player to watch grow, the three starting roles appear to be locked up. The Eagles, stunningly, opted against drafting a linebacker as well. There may be a few undrafted free agents to watch out for, but in terms of the immediate future, things finally seem to be pointing in favor of Kendricks, who oh by the way, also wasn’t traded.
The one position he Eagles did upgrade is the secondary. Drafting Avonte Maddox is huge for a defense that thrives on versatility and already has a boatload of starting talent. Could Maddox replace Patrick Robinson? Could he start at Safety? both are viable questions and the answer to both is ‘possibly.’ ‘How does this affect Kendricks?’ I hear you ask.
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Well, let’s roll it back to 2016. The Eagles didn’t actually blitz that much at all despite the makings of their rampant pass rush taking place. In fact, the team only blitzed 142 times during their 7-9 campaign, amassing just 11 sacks of their season total 34. There were several contributing factors to the team’s inconsistency when rushing the quarterback…but the most pressing was the secondary.
An inability to tackle and be comfortable on an island led Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin out of the building following the end of the season and it also led Jim Schwartz to approach the new season with ‘off-coverage’ in mind, giving his corners more time to dissect the situation and utilize their instinctive tendencies to keep the ball in the hands of opposing quarterbacks. This, of course, means that the defensive line and linebackers have a much bigger window to knock said ball out of said quarterback’s hands and rack up those hurries and sacks.
This new-look secondary that allowed Malcolm Jenkins to lineup practically anywhere Schwartz saw fit, while two safeties rotated with Rodney McLeod over the top, allowed the Eagles front four to generate tonnes of pressure without having to throw the kitchen sink and expose the middle of the field on blitz plays. As the corners found their feet and the damage dealt deep down field dramatically reduced, the team felt more comfortable placing a third linebacker on the field instead of the extra DB, giving them more chance of stopping those bruising backs and thick tight ends.
It’s not often the strategy employed vs Tom Brady but I’d like to see the #Eagles dial up the blitz % tomorrow@PFF #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/DVMNKsZz7l
— A🕳ron Bloch (@PFF_Aaron) February 3, 2018
A quick dump pass into an empty space is all it takes to put coverage linebackers on their toes and this is something Kendricks saw very little of. Instead, his skillset was utilized far more frequently and he was able to generate pressure as well as become a force in the backfield, taking sharp angles and consistently wrapping up ball-carriers. In fact, through the opening 4 weeks of the regular season, Kendrick’s didn’t miss a single tackle. That form only continued as the year progressed.
To recap for Mychal Kendricks this season:
Coverage skills: ✅
Run Defense: ✅
Pass Rush ability: ✅
⬇️Here he beats the LT, Duane Brown for a QB hit#Eagles #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/svy7uev5yq
— A🕳ron Bloch (@PFF_Aaron) January 12, 2018
Mychal Kendricks hunting for Jordan Howard here#Eagles pic.twitter.com/r6KE8OEnWu
— A🕳ron Bloch (@PFF_Aaron) January 12, 2018
The top graded LBs this week pic.twitter.com/LkUmpQMm0A
— PFF (@PFF) November 29, 2017
So in short:
Not only did the Eagles keep hold of Kendricks after a breakout season in which he vowed for more playing time, but they failed to bring in any threatening talent around him. This means that while of course competition will be ripe, Kendricks will likely be a starter once again in 2018. The Eagles also then strengthened the area of defense which arguably opened the doors to more playing time to begin with. Through all the rumors, reports and trades that never were, the Super Bowl champion linebacker remains with the team that drafted him back in 2012. He stood strong through the end of the Andy Reid era and the rollercoaster Chip Kelly tenure…only to really flourish in his second season under Jim Schwartz as his defensive coordinator. As he enters year number 3 in this scheme, the ceiling has only been raised…and that’s why Kendricks is the team’s biggest offseason winner.
Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports