Eric Kendricks is an All Pro, Right?
Coming into the season there was no player on defense I had more confidence in than Eric Kendricks. He has been the leader on defense. He leads the team in tackles and there had been no signs of slowing down. Pro Football Focus had Kendricks ranked as the 3rd best LB in all of football. They had him rated as the best coverage linebacker the last two seasons combined, and his status as an elite LB was unquestioned.
Eric Kendricks knows exactly what is asked of him in the Zimmer defense and always seemed to be in the right position at the right time. His anticipation and ability to read the QB were unmatched at the position.
So, what happened this year? Has Kendricks fallen out of his prime? Is he being asked to do too much with the struggles of others on the defense?
On PFF, Kendricks currently has a 2021 season grade of 64.3, which is a backup level grade. I always think you can take the PFF grades with a huge grain of salt. I’ve personally said many times I’d take Kendricks over any other MLB in the league. The most important function in the modern NFL of the MLB is to cover the TEs and RBs coming out of the backfield. Kendricks normally does that better than just about anyone. This year has been a mixed bag of results.
To start the year, Eric Kendricks was playing at a high level. He had one bad game against the Browns where they racked up some rushing yards, but other than that he was superb. The game against the Detroit Lions was a thing of beauty. He had that one-handed INT to setup an easy score and led the team in tackles. He also had an excellent game against the potent Cowboys offense to help limit their rushing attack to 78 yards on the ground.
Weeks 9-12 have been a different story. Kendricks got worn down against the Ravens and the defense could not get off the field. Week 10 Kendricks had a game changing INT, but overall, really struggled against the Chargers. He was poor against the run and gave up a TD in the air. Week 11 against the Packers was nothing to write home about. He struggled once again against the run and seemed to be out of position often. The 49ers then racked up tons of yardage in Week 12 as the defense in general struggled to stop the run. 208 yards on the ground as the defense gave up 34 points.
Through 6 games PFF had Kendricks rated as the 8th best LB in the NFL. That is still borderline All Pro territory and clearly Pro Bowl worthy. However, the last four weeks have been a struggle for the vet LB.
I’m not nearly ready to write off Kendricks after a poor four-game stretch. He has earned the right to be given the benefit of the doubt. I am going to say this is just a rough patch in the middle of the season. Kendricks has picked up an injury (biceps) but appears to be relatively healthy. Is Kendricks still All Pro? Right now, I cannot say that he is. However, there is still 6 games left in the season and plenty of time for Kendricks to come back to All Pro form. His drop in form has coincided with the poor defensive performances the last four weeks.
If he bounces back and plays well, I anticipate the Vikings defense to improve and Kendricks to be back in consideration for that All Pro team once again.