Versatility As A Euphemism: Scouting Linebacker Devon Kennard

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The Detroit Lions Signed Devon Kennard On March 14th.


When news broke that former New York Giants linebacker Devon Kennard was inked to a two-year deal, Lions fans erupted into a golf clap. The lesser-known defender has been marketed as ‘versatile,’ but what does that really mean? Too often that word can be a euphemism or a back-handed compliment, so it’s important
to understand the connotation behind its use.

I watched five games (Week 1 at Dallas, Week 2 at Detroit, Week 6 at Denver, Week 12 at Washington, and Week 13 at Oakland) and Kennard could certainly be considered versatile. Against the Cowboys, he lined up everywhere in the front seven except for nose tackle. But, his role in New York was more well-defined than his various deployments would suggest. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo utilized him primarily as a stand-up edge in base defenses against heavier offensive personnel groupings. But, he also saw action as a sub rusher in obvious passing situations. Seldom was he used in coverage, and when he was, it was usually as a jammer or spot-dropper in zone shells.

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At his current weight and athletic profile, it was difficult for him to operate in open spaces. At 6’4”, 260 lbs., Kennard looked rigid and heavy footed when backpedaling. He’s packed on weight since his USC days, so it makes sense that his agility is subpar by linebacker standards.

The fact of the matter is that Kennard, for all intents and purposes, is an edge defender. He has the ability to moonlight as a Mike or Sam backer in Bear fronts, but he lacks the requisite fluidity to consistently function in man or zone coverage. Unless he plans on dropping some weight, I see him earning his keep along the frontlines.

Fortunately, Kennard does good work to set the edge as a force player. He uses his length well and plays with optimal arm extension to stay clean against tight ends and tackles alike. Upon disengagement, his motor runs hot in pursuit as he takes smart angles and finishes with a thump.

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His work as a pass rusher left something to be desired, though. The Giants slotted him as a sub package 3-tech with alarming regularity, which didn’t do him any favors, but his upfield burst is below average and he lacks the bend or brawn to win consistently as a pass rusher. Despite a decent arsenal of pass rush moves and counters, Kennard just doesn’t have the twitch needed to consistently apply them. Most of his pressures came on second wind, which although not ideal, is a testament to his competitive makeup.

When operating out of the middle of the defense, Kennard had some processing issues when it came to diagnosing power schemes and got trapped inside when he wasn’t quick enough to work over the top in his scrapes. He also failed to consistently identify play action at the mesh point from that alignment. As an edge, however, he had no problem recognizing split zone blocks from the periphery or diagnosing run/pass.

Projection

Kennard’s technical refinement as a hand-fighter and pursuit skills make him a solid run defender on the edge, but the Lions will likely have superior coverage and pass rushing options. Despite his billing as a versatile player, Kennard doesn’t have a trump card at the moment. As currently constituted, he’s more of a run defender that can play several positions than a true multipurpose player. He has value as a roleplayer who can backup multiple positions, but I don’t see him as a defensive panacea. Let’s see if new head coach Matt Patricia can turn water into wine.

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