Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks was ranked the third-best linebacker in the NFL entering the 2021 season by analytics giant Pro Football Focus (PFF).
Kendricks showed elite coverage skills in 2019, posting the most pass breakups by a linebacker ever recorded by PFF, and was a league leader in tackles in 2020, support a struggling Vikings defensive front before he suffered a calf injury in Week 12.
Prisco’s rankings included PFF’s only two linebackers ranked above Kendricks in Seattle Seahawks‘ Bobby Wagner (No. 1 by PFF,) at No. 41 and San Francisco 49ers linebacker Fred Warner (No. 2 by PFF) at No. 31.
The following linebackers ranked below Kendricks by PFF made Prisco’s overall top 100 list:
- No. 33: Devin White, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 25 by PFF)
- No. 44 Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 4 by PFF)
- No. 53 Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts (No. 6 by PFF)
- No. 61 Demario Davis, New Orleans Saints (No. 5 by PFF)
- No. 73 Myles Jack, Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 15 by PFF)
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Kendricks Named Under-the-Radar Stud by NFL.com
Kendricks coming out party came in 2019 when he earned his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors, earning himself a stake among some of the best linebackers in the league.
However, Minnesota’s defense after underperforming in 2020 diminished his value and recognition around the league, leaving his 2019 performance suspect to a flash in the pan by Prisco.
NFL.com’s Nick Shook finds Kendricks to be among the unsung heroes in the NFC and argued that despite the lack of success in 2020, Kendricks’ performance did not waver.
Here’s what he had to say on Kendricks:
In 2019, Kendricks was named a first-team All-Pro and made his first Pro Bowl. In 2020, Kendricks was blanked in both categories as part of a Vikings team that underachieved — but that doesn’t mean Kendricks disappointed.
The linebacker was again stellar, allowing a passer rating as the nearest defender of just 53.9, the second best rate among all linebackers with a minimum of 20 targets. His -8.1 targeted EPA was the 10th best among linebackers, and he added 107 tackles (four for loss), six passes defended and three interceptions. His ball-hawk rate (the percentage of targets where the nearest defender made a play on the football) of 16.2 percent landed him fifth among all linebackers — in other words, he embodied the ideal, complete linebacker any team would want.
Had Minnesota performed better during a 7-9 season, Kendricks likely would’ve received too much attention to make this list. But, hey, silver linings.
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Kendricks Building Longevity in the NFL
Despite missing five games in 2020, Kendricks holds the league lead in passes broken up with 17 over the past two seasons and owns the highest PFF coverage grade (91.7) among active linebackers.
Primarily touted for his ability in coverage, Kendricks proved he’s an equally capable tackler in the box.
Taking charge of the defense after Anthony Barr went down in Week 2 last season, Kendricks showed the true dimension of his abilities and will likely benefit with Barr back alongside him.
Add in Kendricks playing in a reinvigorated defense that has had $42 million poured into it this offseason and he should ascend back to Pro Bowl status in 2021.
Despite Prisco overlooking Kendricks in his rankings, he did see plenty of value on the Vikings’ roster, ranking six players in his top 100. Only the Green Bay Packers (seven players) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (eight players) had more players listed.
Here’s the members of Minnesota that made the list:
- No. 19 Dalvin Cook, RB
- No. 45 Justin Jefferson, WR
- No. 75 Danielle Hunter, DE
- No. 77 Harrison Smith, S
- No. 93 Kirk Cousins, QB
- No. 97 Adam Thielen, WR