Eric Kendricks – Minnesota’s Sensational MLB – Needs to Elevate

For the past few seasons, Vikings fans have grown accustomed to seeing Eric Kendricks be a true difference maker on defense.

The 2015 second-round pick became one of the game’s preeminent linebackers, largely due to his ability to play so instinctively. His ability to shoot through gaps for a TFL or hang with a receiver working down the seam was sensational. In 2019, Kendricks was very rightly given the first-time All Pro honor for his elite play. That year, he finished with a 90.2 grade on PFF, a remarkable number.

Eric Kendricks and the 2022 Season

In 2022, though, Kendricks has had more struggles, especially in coverage. At present, QBs are completing nearly 73% of their passes into his coverage. These catches go for an average of 9.7 yards per completion and QBs have a collective 97.1 passer rating when targeting him. His coverage score on PFF is a concerning 46.6.

Jun 7, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks (54) and linebacker Troy Dye (45) warm up during mandatory mini camp at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the season, the expectation was that Eric Kendricks would be borderline elite. True, he is older now – almost 31 – so some drop off was still plausible even as many of us were looking for continued excellence.

Eric Kendricks remains a strong player, but he can elevate even higher. His ability to do so could be precisely what this defense needs.

Currently, Kendricks has 107 tackles, 4 TFLs, and 5 PDs. His sack count sits at 0 but it’s worth remembering that he’s blitzing much less. In 2021, Mike Zimmer sent his LB on 67 blitzes; in 2022, Ed Donatell has sent his LB on 20 blitzes. He even scored a TD against the Bills:

At his best, Kendricks is a do-it-all linebacker, someone capable of nullifying the running back as both a runner and receiver. Minnesota’s defense needs that player to fully emerge in the final weeks of the season and, of course, in the playoffs.

Kendricks’ current 83.9 run defense grade on PFF is indicative of his continued ability against the run. Despite all the struggles, Minnesota’s defense is actually in the middle of the pack when it comes to run yards allowed (an average of 116.5 per game). Kendricks is a major reason why Donatell’s group is playing at an average level in this regard. Let’s not forget that Minnesota is most commonly in their nickel package, meaning the pair of linebackers – Kendricks and Jordan Hicks – have a more challenging task when it comes to defending against the run.

Quite often, quarterbacks have been hesitant to challenge Patrick Peterson’s coverage. The end result is plenty of targets directed at other members of the secondary and the linebackers.

Against Detroit, Eric Kendricks allowed 5 completions from 6 targets for 49 yards. Against New York, Kendricks allowed 6 completions from 6 targets for 51 yards. Against New England, Kendricks allowed 6 completions from 7 targets for 70 yards. The point, folks, is that he’s seeing plenty of attention when he’s in coverage. His ability to elevate in this area of his game can’t be overstated. Ask yourself: how critical would just a couple more stops on 3rd down be in the final outcome? How many close games have these Vikings been a part of?

I know this may be an extreme example, but this is the play I always think of when I consider Kendricks’ coverage abilities:

How many corners would have gotten roasted by Davante Adams in the slot? Kendricks, a linebacker, gets the PD.

Next season, the Vikings will have the ability to move on from Eric Kendricks with relatively little financial consequence. From what I can gather, the team won’t be particularly enthused about moving on from their great veteran, so it seems likely that they’ll look toward a restructured deal. If that occurs, we’ll see Kendricks in a purple uniform for a little while longer.

Eric Kendricks will get the chance to help Minnesota get back on track when the Colts come to town on Saturday. A win will clinch the NFC North and push the Vikings’ record to 11-3.

Editor’s Note: Information from PFF and Pro Football Reference helped with this piece.