The defense of the 2023 Los Angeles Rams has surpassed realistic expectations through two games. Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris’ unit stifled Geno Smith and the Seattle Seahawks in the season opener and then gave Matthew Stafford and the offense a comeback drive opportunity against the San Francisco 49ers.
The secondary seemed to be a strength heading into the season with the defensive line being a more significant question mark; however, the line has been solid and the cornerbacks have much room to improve after only two games. The safeties, Russ Yeast and Jordan Fuller, in particular have been strong but there will be weeks where they are challenged more by quarterbacks who aren’t Smith and Brock Purdy.
One of the biggest concerns for the defense through Week 2 is the performance of second-year corner Derion Kendrick, who missed most of training camp with injury and has promising rookie Tre Tomlinson on his heels.
DK Metcalf sent Derion Kendrick to the Shadow Realm my godpic.twitter.com/alehdNre96— Sam Wagman (@swagman95) September 10, 2023
Kendrick has committed three penalties so far this season with one coming against Seattle and two against San Francisco. That figure is tied for second across the NFL for defenders. He had three penalties all of last season despite playing nearly five times as many snaps. Xavien Howard of the Miami Dolphins is the only coverage player currently with four penalties. That’s not comfortable territory to be in. Sure, the penalties weigh down PFF coverage grades so this is somewhat of an exercise in chasing your own tail, but the seven players in the NFL with three or more penalties have earned an average mark of 51.0. This falls solidly in the below average range in terms of grading.
It’s a concerning trend for the CB, mostly because of the context from his draft profile. A sixth-rounder from Georgia, calling Kendrick a limited athlete is still probably too favorable. He ran a 4.77 second forty-yard dash at his pro day but did not participate in the drill at the NFL’s Scouting Combine.
Kendrick struggles with receivers who immediately threaten him with speed, causing him to panic and play outside of his skill set. Though his leverage helps his play, there are times where receivers easily run right past him. In zone coverage, he plays with good vision and anticipation, but he can get overwhelmed with multiple threats at times.
With this picture in mind, it’s reasonable to conclude that the second-year corner sometimes gets grabby with receivers when he’s out of position or unable to keep up downfield. Is that the case for all three of his penalties so far this year? Maybe not, but it’s still certainly something to keep in mind as Kendrick develops.
This ends as a PI, so Brock Purdy doesn’t receive a ton of credit for this throw…— Akash Anavarathan (@akashanav) September 19, 2023
But, pressure coming up the middle and this throw’s dropped into a bucket and if it weren’t for the defender, this is 6 to Deebo Samuel. pic.twitter.com/cFX850C9H0
Will he be able to shed his reputation as a physically limited player, and are the penalty troubles a blip or a trend? Time will tell.