Although not one to stand in the spotlight, Kendricks has plenty of reason to be there. Wrapping up the regular season, Kendricks became the first rookie to lead the Vikings in season tackles (105) since the late Rip Hawkins accomplished it in 1961.
Hawkins was the second player ever drafted by the Vikings, selected 15th overall. During his first season, Hawkins recorded a team-high 126 tackles over 14 games. Kendricks also recorded his 105 tackles in just 14 games, 11 of which he started.
“I mean, honestly I don’t expect anything less of myself. I came in here, I know what I’m capable of, and I just go out and try to prove it every day,” Kendricks said. “I want more, honestly.”
In the Vikings final regular season game on Sunday at Lambeau Field, Kendricks recorded nine total tackles (seven solo) and two quarterback hurries to help Minnesota attain its 20-13 win over Green Bay and NFC North division title.
“[Eric] made some really, really good plays at the end in some of the passing situations,” said Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer. “They were running a couple of tough combination-route plays that he did a really, really good job with.”
True to his humble reputation, Kendricks was quick to deflect any attention following the game.
“I just played for the team,” Kendricks said. “I just played hard, played my keys and just ran the ball.”
In a December press conference, Zimmer emphasized the talent in the 2015 rookie class, which Daniel Jeremiah recently rated as the second-best performing group in the NFL, and said that Kendricks is one who’s been ahead of the curve in his development. For Kendricks to not only start at middle linebacker his debut season but to also lead the entire team in tackles is notable, and it has not gone unnoticed.
“He’s done a really good job of pushing his ego aside and wanting to learn new things, and he’s continued to take strides week in and week out,” Greenway said of Kendricks in an earlier interview. “[…] He’s a great kid, he wants to be good, and he’s a great teammate. He fits into the group, and we’re all about trying to be as good of a linebacker group as we can be, making as many plays as we can. He’s done a good job of stepping up and making good plays.”
On Sunday, Kendricks will participate in his first playoff game when Minnesota hosts Seattle for the Wild Card round. The Seahawks (10-6), who peaked late in the season and have won six of their last seven games, will be a tough game for the Vikings (11-5), but Kendricks and the Vikings defense are ready for the challenge.