The truth is, I have something invested here. I can remember being in the press box in September, saying to colleague Chris Gasper, “You watch, they’ll love Sergio Kindle.” I had my reasons then and have my reasons now.
Why does he fit here? Let’s examine …
1) Versatility: One reason why Kindle is still considered a work-in-progress is because he was employed in so many different ways in coordinator Will Muschamp’s defense. He was really only an every-down rusher his final year at Texas, playing more as a off-the-line linebacker while now-Pro Bowl Brian Orakpo was still on campus.
Not only does having a wide-ranging set of skills make Kindle someone Belichick would be interested in, but it also means that, since he was doing so many things in college, he really hasn’t had the chance to meet his potential in any one area. Basically, he’s very good at a lot of things and could become great.
“He’s athletic enough to cover in space, has tremendous lower body flexibility, can play on the line and line up against 300-pound tackles or play over the tight end,” Muschamp told me. “As an open-side end, I think he’s a guy who has tremendous upside, because of his limited play on the line of scimmage. We only scratched the surface with the guy.”
2) Ability: Alright, so I’ll be clear here — I think there’s a good chance that Brandon Graham or Jerry Hughes will be better pass-rushers in the NFL than Kindle, and for that reason (and because of a serious Patriot deficiency in that department), I would seriously consider those two guys if I’m New England. But knowing that Bill Belichick will be looking for as complete a player as possible, Kindle’s a better fit, and I think Kindle’s potential as a pass-rusher could be the clincher.
The Longhorn has the frame the Patriots like at the position, and the skill set they want to play all situations at a high level. More than that, though, he flashes serious ability to get after the quarterback, which isn’t by accident.
“He’s probably as explosive in a short area as anyone I’ve been around,” Muschamp said. “He has great hand strength and tremendous punching power. He’s very strong handed. … Thing is, he really only played down for two years — Part-time as a junior and full-time as a senior.”
3) Pedigree: As you may have read today, Muschamp is a “Belichick Guy”, and so Belichick’s not only going to get the full story on Kindle, he’s also going to know that he’s been through a program with similar demands. Kindle most certainly can deal with what the Patriots will throw at him.
Beyond just that, some of the character concerns that have cropped up Kindle will be allayed. I know some people in Dallas, where Kindle grew up, that swear by Kindle as “a really good kid.” Muschamp echoes that sentiment.
“He’s got high character,” Muschamp said. “He’s as fun to coach as anyone I’ve ever been around. He’s a tough guy, he competes, he loves ball. I just like being around the guy. I think a lot of people feel that way.”
4) Want-to: A big part of Kindle’s ability to fulfill his enormous potential will be in his capability to learn.
He’s already shown that he can, in serving in so many ways as a Longhorn. A piece of evidence: Before the 2009 season, Muschamp gave Kindle a bunch of cut-ups on NFL players to illustrate how his role would change. And Kindle ate it up.
“More than anything, we did some things with the scheme to fit him his senior year,” Muschamp said. “So I took some Jason Taylor tape, some DeMarcus Ware stuff, and put it together to show him what he’d do playing from a two-point stance on the line. Film can be better than talking. We’re in such a video age, and he’s a better visual learner, so we gave him the tape and he really took it in — rushing outside, dropping, covering tight ends, different techniques, all of it.”
5) The Need: Back in 2008, a lot of people felt like a guy like Jerod Mayo could be the pick, but hedged that by saying “the Patriots never draft linebackers high.” And then they did. Simply put, the need had become so great, that New England had to invest big resources at the position.
Now, finding a premier edge-rusher is a similarly high need. Sometimes you stumble into a really good one. More often than not, though, they’re drafted high, because the skill set isn’t hard to identify in a player and that makes for fewer diamonds-in-the-rough. Usually, the darkhorses are under-drafted because of a height or weight deficiency, or having gone to a smaller-time school.
What I’m saying is that if the Patriots want to find a young player to build a pass rush around, and want him to fit their mold for the position, they almost have to invest. Is Kindle a bit of a projection? Sure. Maybe he’s not a Ware or Shawne Merriman. But he has potential to be, and if he isn’t, I think his versatility mitigates a lot of the risk. Think of it this way, he’s a player with star potential that, at worst, will be a solid pro.
6) Big-game production: Kindle didn’t have huge sack production as a collegian, which is something Muschamp chalks up to what he was up against — A lot of attention and offenses trying to get away from him.
“College is different from the pro game — You have mobile quarterbacks, the pocket movement’s different,” Muschamp said. “He played very, very well for us. In the biggest game (BCS title game vs. Alabama), he had 2.5 sacks. I just feel very confident in his ability to produce in that area in the pros.”
He also delivered the hit — pictured above — that ended Sam Bradford’s Oklahoma career. I think his ability to come up big in big situations counts for something too.
So there you go. I know the Patriots often go off-the-board, and this is something of an obvious pick. But I think there’s a reason why it’s an easy one: Because it’s correct. And I’ve felt that way for a while.