Devon Kennard is a great example of being a great fit in the USC defense. Playing a leo as well as occasionally playing some strong side linebacker concepts, his talent for playing downhill and making plays in both the run and the pass was exploited in every way possible, leading the team in sacks. The Trojans hybrid scheme allowed him to play in a few different roles and really expose him to a lot of offensive nuances that should help him going to the next level. While his physical tools are not overwhelming, he shows a lot of savvy and awareness that allows him to cover for some of that weakness.
Kennard was incredibly productive for USC and while he does have talent to play in the NFL, he was partly a product of good scheming and understanding his role. He is not a natural pass rusher that should be an edge rusher at the next level, but he is a talented blitzer, can take on blockers and play the run. While he was a leo backer for USC, he looks like he is best suited to play a strong side linebacker or a strong inside linebacker in the NFL. As a result, he warrants a third day pick, but he could end up having a productive career.
Vitals & Build
Kennard measured 6’3” 249lbs at the scouting combine with 33 3/8” arms. He has a good amount of strength to play linebacker and while his straight line speed is pretty average, his agility is good when his hips are facing the same direction. Kennard has a little more trouble when he really has to open up his hips. It remains to be seen how much more potential Kennard has, but if he can just get more fluid in his hips, it could make him a better player going to the next level.
Kennard is pretty fundamental tackler. He is pretty consistent at wrapping up opponents and can deliver a good amount of pop, because he keeps churning his legs through contact. The one area he can work to improve is just being more consistent with dropping his hips, but for the most part if Kennard gets to the ball carrier, they go to the ground.
Kennard is aggressive, really looks to get downhill and has shown he can make tackles at the line of scrimmage and in the backfield. He is not afraid to take on blocks and use his hands effectively, whether shocking blockers or having to be stout at the point of attack. His experience as a pass rusher helps him here and he has been productive here, able to work through trash and make tackles in the middle of the field, but also having a pretty good sense of angles to get outside.
His speed and overall athleticism is not ideal, but for teams that want a tough player who is not afraid to do dirty work and win because he is a smart player, Kennard seems to fit the bill.
Kennard is a little clunky when it comes to dropping into coverage. He tends to drop straight back, which is slower and makes it difficult for him to change directions, plant and break on the ball. As a result, he tends to be a little slower and a little behind on passes.
He has a good sense of where plays are going, space and reading routes, so if he can improve his technique when it comes to dropping back and get more efficient in his coverage, he can be an asset.
The one area that Kennard has shown a talent for is sniffing out screens. He has a good feel for when opponents are not really blocking him as well as seeing the field well, so he has been able to knock down screen passes or simply tackle the pass for a nice tackle for loss.
This is something he is going to have to work to improve, but if he can do it, he can at least be a fine option on running downs with a chance to evolve into a three down player.
Pass Rush & Blitz Ability
Kennard has a ton of experience both as a pass rusher and on the blitz. He is not afraid to use his hands to take on blockers and try to beat them and will occasionally display a good spin move, so he is not someone who is just going to try to run around opponents. Nevertheless, he is an underwhelming pass rusher.
On the other hand, he is a great blitz option. In terms of timing, having a good understanding of seeing where opportunities are developing and finding weaknesses in blocking, he has been really effective in this area. His burst and overall speed make him really dangerous on the delayed blitz, because he is able to diagnose where he can get through and make a quick impact. His closing speed is impressive and he can be on top of the quarterback in a hurry. He does need to get a little bit better when it comes to breaking down so he does not miss opportunities, but whether it is attacking through the B gap or going outside, he can be a great asset in overload or standard blitz packages.
Kennard really seems to be best suited for playing a strong side linebacker that can come in and help a team against the run, but should be attractive to teams that like to blitz. Whether in the 4-3 or 3-4, he is not afraid to do dirty work and get downhill.
Kennard will probably have to come in and fight for a spot, potentially playing as depth initially, but he could be a player that surprises in camp because he is an intelligent player that gets the most out of his tools in a number of areas and could end up being an early starter.
Although Kennard is not quite as big, he has some similarities to Koa Misi of the Miami Dolphins. Initially drafted to be a 3-4 outside linebacker, he has become more of a SAM backer in the Dolphins scheme that can help as an added rusher, especially on the blitz.
Devon Kennard is the most physically gifted players in this draft, but he has been one of the more productive ones because he was a great fit in the scheme he played in as well as awareness and intelligence he brings to the game. Kennard is a tough run defender who plays downhill and can blitz the quarterback. He has to improve how he backpedals and gets into his drops, but he has some potential in coverage. Kennard may end up going on day three, but he could have a long, productive career in the NFL.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com