When the New York Giants selected linebacker Devon Kennard with the 174th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the pick was largely met with apathy by fans.
Here on Big Blue View, his selection drew reactions like:
There is a LB to "shut up the fans"
Who the hell is this fool
Kennard will graduate, I hope, to JAG -- Just Another Giant
Once the off-season program got into gear, Kennard's intelligence and professionalism drew the attention and praise of his coaches and teammates.
And as training camp ramped up and contact was allowed, the sight and sound of the rookie linebacker making a big hit became a familiar one.
Kennard quickly created a reputation for himself of being in the right place, at the right time, rarely making mistakes -- and never the same one twice. When defensive captain and starting middle linebacker Jon Beason was first injured, it was Kennard who stepped in to the role of middle linebacker.
All of Kennard's promise came to a head this week when he joined rookie phenom Odell Beckham in making history and became the first rookie defender in Giants' history to be voted Defensive Player of The Week
That accomplishment becomes all the more impressive when you think about the caliber of defensive players in Giants history who didn't achieve that honor.
How has Kennard gone about earning that honor? Let's go to the film and take a look.
For our first play we'll go back a week and take a look at how Kennard played against the Jaguars' run game. The Jags line up in a heavy set, with two tight ends -- one on each end of the line. The Giants are in their base 4-3 front with Herzlich and Kennard as the outside linebackers and a defensive line of Jason Pierre-Paul, Johnathan Hankins, Marcus Kuhn, and DaMontre Moore.
This play is really made on the left side of the offense. At the snap, Hankins, who is lined up between the guard and center as the 1-technique, takes on and controls both blockers. Next to him, JPP simply stands up the left tackle, and Mark Herzlich does the same to the tight end. Kuhn gets blown out of the play by a guard-tackle double team, but that doesn't matter. Hankins, JPP, and Herzlich completely prevent the Jaguars from opening any kind of hole for Dennard Robinson.
That forces Robinson to look for a cutback, which isn't there because of Kennard and Moore. You can see Bortles and Robinson mesh as though they are going to use the read-option though Bortles completes the hand off. Moore does a nice job of following the play and getting in back-side pursuit. Kennard, meanwhile, pauses for an instant, and you can see his helmet move as he accounts for Bortles and makes sure he doesn't have the football. He then comes down hard and fast to get the tackle for a loss.
Just a nice play by the whole front seven.
As we spin it forward a week to the Giants' game against the Tennessee Titans, things are a bit more interesting. Rather than their usual 4-3 front, the Giants are in a 3-4 front. Kennard is the strong-side linebacker, Moore the right defensive end, Hankins is the nose tackle, and JPP is the weak-side linebacker -- I couldn't make out the left defensive end.
Once again, the defensive line does a great job of standing the offensive line up and preventing them from generating any movement. JPP comes up and takes on a pulling guard to set the edge. Kennard comes up a bit slowly, making sure there isn't any kind of pitch or screen pass. Once he is sure it's an inside run, he shows off some impressive lateral agility for a linebacker his size and brings down the running back from behind. Once again, this is a great group effort from the front seven, but also a great individual effort by Kennard.
Once again, we'll start with Kennard's game against the Jaguars. The Jags are once again showing a heavy run formation, but this time it's to sell a play-action pass. The Giants have eight players up on the line of scrimmage showing heavy pressure.
The Giants have this play read perfectly as they create a wall at the line of scrimmage, with DaMontre Moore coming up to set the edge on the right side of the screen. Then Stevie Brown does a fantastic job of staying with the tight end as he releases into a route. Marcus Kuhn and JPP both do great jobs of getting off their blocks to keep Bortles from taking off with the ball. Between them and Brown's coverage, Kennard -- who recognized the play fake very quickly -- has an easy run at the quarterback for the sack.
This is a play the Giants absolutely should have played well. Their offense runs the exact same play. In fact, it's the only one they ever use where Adrien Robinson gets the ball. That being said, kudos to Kennard for staying disciplined, then making a sure tackle. Too often defenders have over-run the play or whiffed on open field sacks with disastrous results.
Kennard's motor pays off on his first sack of the Giants' win over the Titans. On this play, the Giants have JPP and Moore flipped from their 'usual' spots. Moore plays right defensive end, while JPP is on the left side of the defense facing the right tackle.
This is a pretty basic blitz, with Kennard rushing off the edge. But, by rushing him next to JPP, it forces the offense to only commit a single blocker to both the defensive end and the linebacker. In this case, it is the right tackle, who JPP physically dominates, and the fullback, who Kennard soundly beats. At first it looks like JPP is going to come up with the sack as he goes around the tackle, however Mettenberger is able to step up and just avoid Pierre-Paul's outstretched arm -- no mean feat, as we've seen JPP bring down bigger and stronger players before with a single paw.
This is when Kennard's motor takes over. As soon as he sees Mettenberger not fall down, he discards his blocker and hits the quarterback from behind, jarring the ball loose for Marcus Kuhn to run in. It seems like a small thing, but having a defensive player not give up on the play when it looks to already be made is huge. It's things like that which can often determine if a team wins or loses. Too many players would see that as a sure sack and not play through the whistle. Kennard keeps playing, and comes up with the sack.
This week, Kennard did something that JPP, Osi Umenyiora, Michael Strahan, Jesse Armstead, LT, Harry Carson, nor Carl Banks ever did. It's not the most prestigious honor, but being the first Giants' rookie defender to ever be named Defensive Player Of The Week, is a pretty impressive accomplishment.
What is more impressive is that the rookie linebacker truly earned it. He had an enormous impact on the game, and is quickly becoming one of the Giants' best and most dependable defenders. He plays with a maturity and professionalism that you seldom see from rookies.
Giants' fans may have been annoyed with Jerry Reese -- "Jerry Reach" he was called at the time -- for waiting until their fifth round compensatory pick to select a linebacker, but the Giants got a good one. There is a lot of football to be played before we can even start to compare him to the above players, but the Giants might just have made one of the steals of the 2014 draft with Kennard.