Star linebacker Eric Kendricks cemented his position as arguably the most influential member of the Minnesota Vikings defense this season.
Fifth-year standout Eric Kendricks had another incredible campaign as an emerging leader on the defensive side of the ball for the Minnesota Vikings, something that drew rave reviews from players, coaching staff, fans and media members alike.
This resulted in a first-team All-Pro selection despite only made the Pro Bowl as a replacement, which further highlighted the major drawbacks that come with its selection process.
Kendricks was nothing short of sensational throughout the season both in defending the run and pass coverage. He has become a real favorite of head coach Mike Zimmer and the rest of the coaching staff.
Zimmer, who is not renowned for giving praise to his players, had this to say upon hearing of Kendricks’ selection to the All-Pro First-Team.
“Eric’s had a good year. He’s a good kid, works real hard, has gotten better each and every year. We’re happy for him.”
That alone should tell you all you need to know about the middle linebacker’s character and the esteem in which he is held within the organization.
With 85 individual and 112 combined tackles during the campaign, Kendricks was a prominent sideline-to-sideline presence on a defense that more than held its own despite weak cornerback play.
This production is just a small portion of his contribution, with Kendricks’ communication on the field another eye-catching feature of his play, especially during key moments in close games.
The stout run defender held the middle of the field exceptional well consistently, allowing Anthony Barr to get after the opposing quarterback whenever possible safe in the knowledge they would not be exposed by tight ends in coverage or if a running back broke the formidable Vikings defensive front.
One thing that goes under the radar from the former second-round pick out of UCLA is his significant improvement in pass coverage, which saw Kendricks deflect 12 passes this season, tied for first among players operating at his position.
This is something that is clearly important to Kendricks.
“I take pride in my pass coverage, and not a lot of ‘backers get that responsibility I get in pass coverage. But I’m OK with that. I embrace the challenge and I’m up for it.”
With the problems at cornerback during the season, this has been extremely welcome and was almost a necessity to enable the Vikings to seal the sixth seed in the NFC and reach the playoffs.
They were unable to wrestle the NFC North from the Green Bay Packers thanks in no small part to Kendricks suffering a quad injury during their Week 16 contest, which also put his playoff status in doubt heading into their crunch clash at the New Orleans Saints.
Kendricks displayed his custom grit and determination to not only play in pain during the postseason, but also record nine combined tackles in two games and come up with an interception early on during their defeat at the San Francisco 49ers.
Given the fact Kendricks is still only 27 and entering his prime, there could still be more to come from a player who counts a little more than $10 million against the Vikings’ salary cap next season.
On the evidence of the previous campaign, Kendricks is more than worth this financial commitment and although there may be substantial changes to who plays around him during a critical offseason, having someone of his stature in the center of the field will ensure any transitional problems that could emerge will be minimal.
The incoming defensive coordinator, whoever that may be, can also call on the linebacker for guidance and support during the initial stages of his appointment and beyond, which is another massive boost.
Simply put, the influence of Kendricks within the Vikings’ locker room cannot be understated and is set to grow even more given the uncertain status of certain senior players that have played a leading role over a number of years.
Kendricks, the top-ranked middle linebacker by Pro Football Focus in 2019, is finally getting the recognition he deserves and this can only be a good thing going forward for the Minnesota Vikings.