At What Point Do the Philadelphia Eagles Give Up on Mychal Kendricks?

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistSeptember 26, 2013

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 19:   Jamaal Charles #25 of the Kansas City Chiefs carries the ball as  Mychal Kendricks #95 of the Philadelphia Eagles defends on September 19, 2013 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennslyvania. The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 26-16.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Remember all of the hype that surrounded then Philadelphia Eagles rookie linebacker Mychal Kendricks just 14 months ago? The athletic, versatile No. 46 overall pick out of Cal was already being declared a draft steal as he put on a show during offseason activities. 

Some headlines from those days of unbridled promise and optimism:

But then Kendricks went out and had a mainly terrible rookie season. He missed 14 tackles and drew six penalties, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), which landed him a PFF grade of minus-11.4. Only one 4-3 outside linebacker, who played at least 25 percent of his team's snaps, was rated lower than Kendricks was in 2012. 

That entire defense was bad, though, and Kendricks was forced to start from the get-go with Juan Castillo and the Wide 9 certainly impeding some of his progress.

He still managed to finish third on the team with 88 overall tackles, while collecting a solid eight tackles for a loss, according to CSN Philly's Geoff Mosher, and a lot of people believed he'd excel as a starter in Bill Davis's 3-4-oriented unit in 2013.

Nope. Not thus far, anyway.

Three weeks into the season, Kendricks has earned the second-worst PFF grade in all of football and the worst at the linebacker position by a wide, wide margin.

The problem? Bad tackling, bad coverage, bad run defense and a lack of playmaking ability. No, it's not pretty. Let's examine the many issues he's been having...


Poor Angles and Missed Tackles

One year after missing 14 tackles in 15 games, Kendricks is already more than halfway to that total with eight missed tackles three games into the 2013 season. Sometimes, he just isn't smooth or confident in his approach. Other times, he's almost too confident, lacking control. Either way, the results aren't pretty. 

Second Quarter, Week 3

Some great players have missed tackles on Jamaal Charles in the open field over the years, so I won't hold this against him too strongly. Still, it's a whiff:

Fourth Quarter, Week 3

Later in the same game, he has Charles in his grasp. This is tougher to forgive, because it's not an open field situation. 

When Charles got out of that tackle, it was pretty much game over.

Second Quarter, Week 2

You can't miss Danny Woodhead when he's already being slowed down by a teammate and he's squared up in front of you, right?


First Quarter, Week 3

On paper, this was a good play. Kendricks is credited with a tackle for a loss when he does a nice job reading and aggressively pursuing a sweep to Dexter McCluster toward the right flat. But his angle was actually bad. He over-committed inside of McCluster, despite the fact he had a teammate in place to defend against a cut inside. 

Here, I've drawn up Kendricks' angle in red, along with the angle he should have taken in blue:

Again, he still made the play, but barely...

He read the play well, but this is still an example of Kendricks' athleticism compensating for his lack of football smarts.


Bad Coverage

Kendricks also has the league's worst pass coverage rating, per PFF. In his defense, he faced Antonio Gates in one of those three games, but he just leaves too much space. On the 25 passes thrown his way thus far, 21 have been completed. 

 First Quarter, Week 2

Against Antonio Gates, he easily gets beat right off the snap:

To his credit, he regains himself and has a decent angle for the tackle. Kendricks is faster than Gates, but he doesn't get wide enough and misses the tackle.

Second Quarter, Week 2

It got a lot worse against Gates:

Fourth Quarter, Week 2

The future Hall of Famer was relentless. Here, he again posts up on Kendricks and causes him to fall to the turf:

More on his bad falling habit later.


Physically Overmatched 

Kendricks is undersized. That alone doesn't always hold players back, but when it is combined with other factors, it's a problem. At 5'11", 240 lbs, he had a lot of trouble getting off blocks as a rookie and that hasn't changed this season. 

First Quarter, Week 3

Here he is getting manhandled by Chiefs tight end Sean McGrath on a Charles run:

He isn't even close to the action on a third-and-short.

Fourth Quarter, Week 3

And another example on a Charles run later. This time, he's being completely controlled for the entire play by fullback Anthony Sherman:

First Quarter, Week 2

Gates didn't just burn him as a receiver, but also as a blocker:

And another example from the same quarter:

Anddd one final example from the same quarter:

You're not going to win every one-on-one battle in and around the trenches, but Kendricks is being removed completely from too many plays.


It Also Just Feels Like He's Constantly Either Lost or Falling Down

This happens to young lads in the NFL, but it happens too often to Kendricks.

First Quarter, Week 2

At the outset of this play, it looks as though Kendricks has a chance to take down Ryan Mathews after a relatively short gain:

But then this happens...

That's the most blatant example, but I can't tell you how many times I've seen him dive too early, trip over his own feet and generally look confused. 


It Hasn't Been All Bad

Again, that first game against Washington wasn't shabby. At that point, it looked as though Kendricks was well on his way to becoming a solid starter in his second season, as many had anticipated. He had 10 tackles and made a couple big plays. 

First Quarter, Week 1

On the second defensive play of the year, he took a great angle and again made a great read, taking Alfred Morris out of bounds for a three-yard loss.

Second Quarter, Week 1

He also flexed his muscle as a pass-rusher, whacking Robert Griffin III and forcing an intentional grounding penalty near the end of the first half.

Those glimpses of Kendricks the playmaker are what make it so hard to write him off. 

The bad, though, clearly has outweighed the good. Right now, Kendricks is a huge liability. That being said, the Eagles might have to suck it up. 

First, it's not as though they have better options with Casey Matthews and Jake Knott in the bullpen. And second, it's still a little too early to give up. Even though Kendricks ran in a 3-4 D at Cal, this one isn't the same. And he spent the entire 2012 season trying to adjust to another unfamiliar scheme. 

He was miscast as a SAM linebacker for the majority of that ugly rookie campaign. And once he was given a shot on the weak side in December, he showed some signs of progress. He's in the middle now, but there's a chance he'll turn it around late in his sophomore season as well. 

So Eagles fans should keep in mind that the dude is only 22 years old, and the coaching staff should—and probably will—give him three more months. 

But if he doesn't become someone the Eagles can trust and rely on by the time the 2014 offseason has arrived, it'll be time for the Eagles to look for alternatives. 


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