Two years ago, Jamar Chaney had the distinction of running the fastest 40-yard dash among linebackers at the NFL’s pre-draft scouting combine. Zoom-zoom-zoomed down the Lucas Oil Field straightaway in an impressive 4.54 seconds.
His reward? The Eagles took him in the seventh round with the 220th overall pick.
Two years later, the Eagles again have selected the combine’s linebacker sprint champion, taking Cal’s Mychal Kendricks with the first of their two second-round picks Friday night. Why did Kendricks, who ran a 4.47 forty for scouts in February, get picked so much higher than Chaney?
Because, unlike Chaney, he had game tape that matched up with his measurables. When scouts watched tape of Chaney his final year at Mississippi State, they saw an uninstinctive linebacker who didn’t play nearly as fast as his clock time. In fact, his impressive 40 time at the combine probably was the only reason he was even drafted at all.
Kendricks, on the other hand, was the Pac-12s Defensive Player of the Year last season. Led the team in tackles (106) and tackles for losses (14 ½). Had two interceptions, three sacks and two fumble recoveries.
``Kendricks not only ran an impressive time at the combine, but he also was a highly productive player at Cal,’’ NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. ``The productivity lines up. The speed is phenomenal. People are worried about his size. But I think he can start in this league either inside or outside.’’
Ah, yes. The size. Kendricks is only 5-11 ¼ and 239 pounds. That’s not very tall for a guy who could be the Eagles’ season-opening starting strongside linebacker and is going to be counted on to cover much-taller pass-catching tight ends.
But Andy Reid said he isn’t concerned. ``He’s had success with that,’’ the Eagles coach said. ``In the Pac-10, they throw the ball once or twice out there. You get a little bit of a pinch there with him covering some guys. We’ll see how he does. That’s been one of his strengths. So we’ll see how that transfers over. I’m thinking it will.’’
Kendricks plays bigger than 5-11. He has been able to offset his lack of size with tremendous leaping ability. His 39-5 vertical jump was the best among linebackers at the combine. In fact, it the best among all defensive players, including corners and safeties. Kendrick’s leaping ability benefits him as a blitzer. He batted down a number of passes at Cal.
``The one thing that really interests me there is we’re getting a phenomenal pass-rusher on that (strong) side,’’ Reid said. ``We’re getting someone who can really cover the tight end, and his pass-coverage skills are a strong part of his game. When you see the way he’s built, you’ll understand. He plays a physical game. You’ve heard the term `heavy-handed.’ When he locks onto you, he’s pretty strong with that.’’
The tight end has become an important weapon in NFL passing games and defenses need linebackers and safeties who can both cover them and slow them up at the line of scrimmage.
The Eagles actually did a decent job against opposing tight ends last season. Held them to 66 catches for 765 yards and 5 touchdowns. Over the last 11 games, they gave up just two touchdown catches to tight ends.
The Eagles have been criticized for taking undersized linebackers. But they clearly value speed over heft, pass-coverage ability over run-stopping prowess. Chaney’s problem was that he negates much of his speed with slow reactions. He’s more of a downhill linebacker linebacker and often was slow in recognizing play-action.
``You want to try to, from an offensive standpoint, find a weakness in the defense,’’ Reid said. ``Then you want to exploit those weaknesses. From a coaching standpoint, I’m trying to eliminate any of those weaknesses the best I can from a defensive standpoint.
``A player like Kendricks, he doesn’t present you with a lot of weaknesses as long as it carries over. He is coming from the college level and I’m expecting it to carry over obviously, or I wouldn’t have taken him.’’