I’ll admit it; I didn’t think that Benardrick McKinney was a pro-bowl level player before the season. Though I believed that he was a high-level inside linebacker that was among the leagues best regarding run stuffing and tackling, yet he couldn’t show a consistent high-level play in coverage.
Except McKinney has proven me wrong all season. Then showed just how wrong I was on Sunday versus the Eagles. He strengthened his pro-bowl status with an exceptional performance that saw him register his first NFL interception.
A key play that stood out to me was a forced incompletion on Darren Sproles during a second-quarter goal-line stand.
Notice that Sproles starts off on the weak side of the line, then motions to the strong side. This motion forces McKinney to pick up Zach Cunningham’s assignment. Watch how McKinney takes a proper angle as he doesn’t commit to Sproles’ east-west style of play before the catch. It’s worth noting that Sproles looks directly at McKinney’s 6-4 mammoth stature and immediately takes his eyes off the ball; forcing an incompletion.
It’s also worth noting that McKinney’s first career interception wasn’t just a flukey pass.
Notice that McKinney is in man coverage. His man is Zach Ertz (No. 86).
McKinney has obviously been watching his film as he understands his matchup against Zach Ertz.
Ertz is one of the shiftiest tight ends in NFL history, before and after the catch. To further his case of tight-ends greatness, he also tends to have fantastic chemistry with whoever plays quarterback. With all of this in mind, McKinney keeps Ertz right in front of him, in a restricting range.
Watch how McKinney continually has his eyes on Foles when Ertz’s route develops. He keeps Ertz on a short leash with constant yet legal contact. This constant spying on Foles allows McKinney to read his eyes and ball to make a play.
So why was McKinney’s most recent performance so fantastic? His first career interception wasn’t even his best play.
Notice that the Texans are in Tampa 2 below (shown in the video). McKinney’s role is perhaps the most important as he’s supposed to play the inward middle third of the field. The holes in this coverage are in the deep corners, as the safeties and inside linebacker play deep zones in the middle of the field. Both McKinney and Nick Foles know this, as Foles audibles Alshon Jeffrey to cut across the field to said corner.
Watch how McKinney plays his middle third zone well, but most importantly, he is aware of Jeffreys slant route to the corner of the end zone. Once McKinney realizes that Jeffrey has found the soft spot of the defense he leaves his zone for the sake of the greater cause with a volleyball-esque deflection.
Simply put, the three plays above prove one thing about Benardrick McKinney; his stock is growing. Not only is he a first-time pro bowler in 2018, but he also has the game to back that popularity up. If you can’t see that, then you must be watching 2017 tape of a one-dimensional run-stuffing Benardrick McKinney that lacks consistent cover abilities.