It seems the rest of the world is catching onto the special player that is Eric Kendricks.
The Vikings linebacker earned All-Pro honors after his stellar 2019 performance and in January participated in his first career Pro Bowl. Most recently, Kendricks was ranked as the league’s second-best linebacker by CBS Sports' Sean Wagner-McGough, who noted that he included only the "traditional" off-ball linebackers and not edge rushers (i.e. Khalil Mack, Von Miller or Chandler Jones). He wrote:
The anchor of the Vikings defense, Kendricks has been a quality linebacker for a while now. But in 2019, he experienced a career season that vaulted him up this list. For the first time in his five-year career, he garnered a [First-Team] All-Pro selection, which was well deserved after a 110-tackle season that also included 12 passes defended. According to PFF, those 12 pass breakups represent "the most we have ever seen over a season from that position." He's consistently one of the best coverage linebackers in football, which matters more in the modern, pass-happy version of the sport.
Since he entered the league in 2015, he ranks fifth in combined tackles and second in passes defended among all linebackers. As the Vikings try to overcome the losses of several key contributors on the defensive side of the ball, they'll need Kendricks to maintain his level of production in 2020. The good news is that there's no real reason to expect a drop-off.
At the age of 28, after a career-best season and entering his sixth NFL season, Kendricks is more likely to be entering his peak than his decline.
Kendricks came in behind Seattle's Bobby Wagner on Wagner-McGough's list. The Vikings have become all-too familiar with Wagner during their regular trips to the Pacific Northwest, and they will face him again during the 2020 season. Wagner-McGough said that Wagner "does it all," and it's hard to argue that.
[Luke] Kuechly is the only player who has recorded more combined tackles than Wagner during the past 10 seasons. He's also recorded 10 interceptions in his career. He's durable, having missed only nine games in eight seasons. He's remarkably consistent, having been named [First-Team] All-Pro in five of his eight seasons. He played a huge role on some of the greatest defenses in NFL history, during the Legion of Boom's peak. … Last year, at the age of 29, he notched the second-most tackles of his career.
View the top photos of Vikings LB Eric Kendricks from the 2019 season.
After Wagner and Kendricks, Wagner-McGough's ranking of linebackers was as follows: Darius Leonard (Colts), Demario Davis (Saints), C.J. Mosley (Jets), Lavonte David (Buccaneers), Leighton Vander Esch (Cowboys), Roquan Smith (Bears), Fred Warner (49ers) and Tremaine Edmunds (Bills).
Vikings roster ranked 17th strongest by ESPN
Which NFL team has the strongest roster – on paper – heading into a new season?
ESPN teamed up with analytics site Pro Football Focus to rank the squads according to strength. ESPN wrote:
With the 2020 draft and free agency behind us, we're breaking down each team's roster using the Pro Football Focus database with an eye toward the projected starters. Using both the PFF grades from the 2019 season – a number that is included for every projected starter – and a more comprehensive look at each player's career using both PFF grades and statistics, here's how the 32 rosters stack up heading into next season.
The Vikings ranked 17th on the list, with safety Anthony Harris having the team's highest PFF grade (91.1), followed by Kendricks (90.1).
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of January 4, 2021.
For each team, designations were made for Biggest Strength, Biggest Weakness and X Factor for 2020.
Minnesota's safety duo of Harris and Harrison Smith (88.4) was tabbed as the team's biggest strength, saying the pair is "comfortably one of the best tandems in the NFL."
As far as weakness, it was pointed out that questions still face the Vikings offensive line and that there are "a lot of things to work out" heading into the 2020 season.
Rookie cornerback Jeff Gladney, whom the Vikings drafted 31st overall, was spotlighted as Minnesota's X Factor for this season.
Minnesota underwent a wholesale change at cornerback this offseason, saying goodbye to starters Trae Waynes, Xavier Rhodes and Mackensie Alexander while selecting Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler in the 2020 draft. Last season's starters struggled overall, but that is still a lot of turnover in one offseason. Gladney is the rookie to watch when it comes to making an impact early. He was tested heavily downfield in the Big 12, but he stood up to that test. Gladney's 47 percent completion percentage allowed ranked first among FBS cornerbacks with at least 1,000 coverage snaps from 2016 through 2019.
Former Vikings FB Zach Line coaching at alma mater
Former Vikings fullback Zach Line, who played 35 games for Minnesota from 2013-16 before spending three seasons with the Saints, is trying his hand at coaching.
Line retired following the 2019 season and took over at the helm of his alma mater, Oxford High School in Oxford, Michigan. He will follow his former coach Bud Rowley, who won 264 games in more than four decades as the Wildcats' head coach.
Line, who played collegiately for SMU, recently spoke with PonyFans.com about this next step in his career.
"Following [Rowley], I obviously have some huge shoes to fill," Line told the site. "Of course it's a huge challenge to follow someone like that, but he left me with players who are disciplined, who work hard and are hard-nosed. Oxford always has had players with a lot of physicality and toughness, and the guys I have now are like that."
Like every other team in the country, Oxford's offseason was affected by the coronavirus pandemic, which cost the Wildcats several spring practices, the strength and conditioning work that is put in during the month of May and some seven-on-seven work. The team just recently resumed outdoor offseason conditioning workouts within the restrictions set by the Michigan High School Athletic Association, sometimes with his wife and daughters — "my cheerleaders," he calls them — there to watch.
Raising three daughters who are under the age of five is not the same, obviously, as leading a team of high school football players. But Line said that there are definite overlaps between the two roles.
"I think I have to have even more patience at home than I do as a coach," Line said. "If the 4-year-old does something wrong, the 3-year-old will follow suit, because she looks up to her sister. It's the same thing with players: the seniors need to be the leaders. If they do something wrong, the younger guys will follow suit. When your leaders establish the way to do things, the others follow suit. They learn by example."