Philadelphia Eagles‘ linebacker Mychal Kendricks had a rough 2013, especially in the early part of the season. But as the season went on and he got more comfortable with his role in the Eagles’ defense, his performance got better. Should the Eagles be expecting Kendricks to take the next step in 2014?
First we have to look at where Kendricks was last season, which wasn’t a good place. His overall PFF (subscription) grade was -9.5 for the season. His run stop percentage was only 7.7 percent, ranking him 26th in the NFL among inside linebackers. He ranked 18th in the league in pass rush productivity and was 39th in the league in tackling efficiency (he also had 23 missed tackles on the season). However, his pass coverage might have been the worst part of his game last season. Kendricks allowed a reception every nine snaps where he was the primary man in coverage.
So far in this year’s training camp, Kendricks has shown some improvements from last season. He’s showing a better understanding of the defense along with a greater awareness. He’s an exceptional athlete, but needs to get his head on the same level as his physical skills.
How has his good training camp translated onto the field so far in three preseason games? While it’s only preseason, there are still certain things that can be taken from these games. His tackling has certainly been better so far. Last season his tackling efficiency (the number of tackles per missed tackle) was 5.8, while in three preseason games this year it has been 10. His coverage has also shown improvement. He’s improved from allowing a reception every nine snaps where he was the primary man in coverage to allowing a reception every 14 snaps.
These improvements, albeit from a much smaller sample size than last season, are a result of Kendricks having another season under his belt in this defense and a focus on his tackling. Both of these areas were points of major concern this offseason and his coaches and the training staff have worked with him extensively in improving these areas.
The next step for Kendricks isn’t him being the best inside linebacker in the league nor should anyone have those expectations this early. The next step for him is being a three down linebacker who the Eagles coaching staff can trust when he’s on the field. I think Kendricks is ready to take that step this season. He’s going to be a player that is better in coverage (he’ll still get picked on, especially against premiere tight ends) and who will use his athleticism in a more effective manner. Last season his superior athleticism was almost a detriment to his game. I expect Kendricks to still have some problems, but not nearly as many as he did in 2013.