Overrated and Underrated: LB Edition
Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA
Kendricks can be a very good NFL players, but I rated him as a first rounder on first look and now see I was overrating his ceiling. He has the ability to thump downhill, but Kendricks will require help around him to be a consistent (and productive starter).
The biggest difference between the initial evaluation and new evaluation is his hip explosion. For LBs, one of the most important attributes is being able to turn your hips and explode through them to close on the ball carrier. Though Kendricks does this well when square, there were numerous plays when the UCLA faced outside runs that Kendricks was slow closing. He would often make the play if not blocked, there will be traffic and faster runners in the pros. This also plays a part when dropping back into coverage. Kendricks FBI allows him to read the QB and make plays, but if he does get caught against a fast TE or slot WR, he is incredibly mismatched (and in today’s NFL of mismatches, it is a big problem). Kendricks will need to play with others who can cover those players and allow him to really focus on filling gaps against the run or play in a soft zone.
This does not deny what Kendricks does well though. He is incredibly intelligent in how he plays and makes few errors. His tackling technique is phenomenal and even bigger RBs struggle to break his tackles. Kendricks has a high floor as a situation player but could easily start and rack up near triple digit tackles if he can learn to shed blocks and get past NFL blockers. But, he is not a player who will stop splash plays from happening where the NFL is moving. In the 2nd day, Kendricks should be a very solid pick for a team in need.
Paul Dawson, LB, TCU
Dawson is starting to gain steam in the draft process and rightfully so. My initial evaluation was not very in depth and I missed a potential gem. Dawson is one of the best in the country at engaging and shedding blocks consistently and with different moves. This is usually not a strength at the LB position (many hate traffic,) but Dawson seems to embrace it. He often tricks RBs into seeing an open hole or gap and trying to bust through it, but Dawson finds a way to laterally shed and close it quickly. In these situations, he often lays the lumber too and can jar the ball loose this way.
One of the major complaints about Dawson is his size. He is short and small, and he is not the super athlete like Ryan Shazier was last season. That being said, he can move sideline to sideline and could develop covering offensive playmakers in the flats or middle of the field. His footwork and technique are pretty solid (though he will overextend on tackles at times,) and he has a high FBI. Ultimately, Paul Dawson has those attributes of a impact LB unlike Eric Kendricks and is upside to bring some pass rush to the table.
Dawson is a clear Top 50 talent on the field, and I have trouble not rating him as a first round pick for his on field talent. There have been rumblings about Paul Dawson having issues off the field from anonymous scout quotes, specifically how committed he is to football and working at it. If that is the case, he could fall, but from a talent perspective, Dawson has it in spades.