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Lunchbreak: Eric Kendricks Among's Top 10 Off-Ball Linebackers

If anyone knows defense, it's NFL Network analyst Willie McGinest.

The fourth overall selection in the 1994 NFL Draft, McGinest played linebacker and defensive end in the league for 15 seasons (1994-2008) and received two Pro Bowl nods.

Now on the other side, per se, of the game, McGinest recently rolled out his top 10 off-ball linebackers heading into the 2021 season. He ranked Eric Kendricks No. 6 and wrote the following:

Kendricks has been a force in the middle of [Head Coach] Mike Zimmer's defense – and he keeps getting better. Entering his seventh NFL season, Kendricks is always around the ball and thrives in coverage. Over the last two seasons, he's posted 18 pass breakups and a Pro Football Focus cover grade of 91.2, both ranking second in the league among linebackers. In addition, Kendricks gets the job done in the trenches and is one helluva finisher.

Ranked ahead of Kendricks by McGinest (from 5-1, respectively) were Demario Davis (Saints), Fred Warner (49ers), Darius Leonard (Colts), Devin White (Bucs) and Bobby Wagner (Seattle).

The Vikings are scheduled to host Wagner and the Seahawks at U.S. Bank Stadium in Week 3 for the regular-season opener.

Wagner is the full package and has been a model of consistency throughout his career. He has registered 130 tackles in six of his nine NFL seasons, including a 2020 performance of 138 tackles, seven tackles for loss, 11 QB hits, three sacks and a fumble recovery. One of the few Seahawks still around from those Super Bowl teams, Wagner has maintained his dominance thanks, in part, to his ability to read and identify formations and quickly diagnose plays, allowing him to always be in the right place. The six-time All-Pro is great in coverage and one of the best open-field tacklers (you don't hit the 100-mark every year of your career if you aren't). Simply put, Wagner is still the prototype for the position heading into his 10th NFL season.

And while it's hard to predict how much – if at all – starters will play in the second preseason game, the Vikings will host the Colts on Aug. 21 and have a chance at facing Leonard, whom Indianapolis just signed to an extension.

The two-time first-team All-Pro is extremely athletic, talented and fluid in space – and the scary thing is, he can get better. Leonard's sideline-to-sideline movement is second to none, as there's not a lot of hesitation in his game. His ability allows the Colts to use him in a lot of different ways, including incorporating him into their pass-rush scheme, which is partly why he leads traditional linebackers in sacks (15.0) and forced fumbles (nine) since 2018. He's the heart and soul of Indy's defense, and his effort on every play proves it.

Top NFL players by jersey number: 3 Vikings make the list

Every preseason, CBS Sports' Cody Benjamin puts together a fun article in which he identifies "the best player set to wear every single number – 1-99 – going into the 2021 campaign."

Three Vikings appeared on Benjamin's list, all of them on the offensive side of the ball.

In back-to-back slots, he tabbed Justin Jefferson (18) and Adam Thielen (19). Benjamin wrote the following of Thielen:

When he's healthy, he'll give you more fight and crunch-time results than most of the other options here, all of which are good: Amari Cooper, Kenny Golladay, Deebo Samuel.

Benjamin picked Jefferson over Calvin Ridley, whom he said would also "work well" in the 18th spot.

And at 33, of course, is none other than Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, who currently has 33 regular-season rushing TDs to match his number.

Jamal Adams once looked like a lock here. Now, there's no question: Cook is one of the NFL's premier playmakers.

No other Vikings made the cut, but at No. 94 Benjamin noted that "new Vikings DT Dalvin Tomlinson has a chance to make noise here playing alongside Danielle Hunter." For now, Saints DE Cameron Jordan – son of Vikings Legend Steve Jordan – occupies the spot.

Patrick Peterson was considered at No. 7, but Benjamin gave the designation to Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger. Kendricks lost the 54 spot to Warner but was mulled over for inclusion. At 84, Benjamin wrote that "Irv Smith, Jr., might be due for a big year in Minnesota, but [Corey] Davis has proven he belongs as a starter on the outside."

Aaron Donald was listed at 99.

Had Danielle Hunter stayed healthy in 2020, he might've been in the mix here. He's not the only top talent worthy of an honorable mention, either: DeForest Buckner, Chase Young and J.J. Watt all share No. 99 with the freakish Donald.

Two former Vikings also made Benjamin's list: Stefon Diggs (14) and Linval Joseph (98).