Vikings pick UCLA linebacker in 2nd round

Published 11:35 am Saturday, May 2, 2015

EDEN PRAIRIE — The Minnesota Vikings had so much luck by taking a UCLA linebacker early in last year’s draft that they decided to do it again.

The Vikings filled one of their biggest needs, selecting Eric Kendricks with the 45th overall selection in the second round of the NFL draft Friday night.

Kendricks won the Butkus Award as college football’s best linebacker last season. The 6-foot, 232-pound Kendricks is UCLA’s career leader in tackles and could step in to start in between Chad Greenway and former Bruins teammate Anthony Barr.

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“I’ve been waiting for this moment for my entire life,” Kendricks said. “I couldn’t be more proud and happy to be part of this organization, especially being with one of my best friends and my old roommate.”

After trading down twice in the third round, picking up a sixth-round pick from Kansas City and a fifth-rounder from Detroit, before grabbing LSU defensive end Danielle Hunter with the 88th overall selection. Hunter led the Tigers with 13 tackles for loss last season.

General manager Rick Spielman said Kendricks could play inside or outside, while Kendricks said coaches have already told him they’ll first look at him inside.

“He has the athletic skill set to be a three-down backer,” Spielman said. “And he says he can help get Anthony Barr lined up.”

Kendricks is the first second-round pick by the Vikings since tight end Kyle Rudolph in 2011. They traded their second-round pick in each of the previous two drafts to get back up into the first round. Kendricks joins cornerback Trae Waynes in the Vikings draft class. Waynes was drafted 11th overall on Thursday night.

Kendricks had 149 tackles, four sacks and three interceptions as a senior. And while Barr was putting together an impressive rookie season in Minnesota, Kendricks said the two had spoken about reuniting in the pros.

“This WAS the talk,” Kendricks said. “AB was like, ‘Hey Eric we could really use you.’ He always said that throughout the season. … It’s just awesome that’s actually going to happen.”

As soon as the pick was announced, Barr tweeted, “wait are you serious? … I feel like I just got drafted again.”

“He was my roommate in college, obviously my teammate in college and now we’re on the same NFL team,” Barr said. “Stuff like that doesn’t happen. It’s pretty special. I’m excited selfishly for myself because we have such a great relationship and for the team because he’s going to do great things for us.”

Spielman said the Vikings tried to move up in the third round for an unspecified player, but when that didn’t work they dropped down and grabbed Hunter, who left school after his junior season. Spielman called him “a project.”

Cornerback wasn’t necessarily the Vikings’ most pressing need when the draft began, but they still ended up grabbing Waynes, a 6-footer who played in coach Mark Dantonio’s hard-nosed defense at Michigan State. Facing big receivers in the NFC North like Calvin Johnson and Alshon Jeffery, coach Mike Zimmer pushed hard to add another cornerback with good size opposite rising star Xavier Rhodes.

“It’s hard to find really good corners in the draft nowadays,” Zimmer said. “It seems like everybody with great athletic ability is playing offense, wide receivers with the way the ball is being spread around in college. For us to get a guy that has size, which is important to me, outstanding speed, 4.31 in the 40, excellent ball skills, great competitor, big heart. Those things are extremely important.”

Waynes grew up right next door in Kenosha, Wis., and said on Friday that he was happy to be staying close to home.

“It’s really big just for a family standpoint,” Waynes said. “They’re going to be able to come to a lot of my games and not have to travel across the country just to see me play. My parents, they’re not really big on flying, so this is only a short drive away.”

The moves Spielman made in the third round means the Vikings will go into the final day armed with six picks — one each in the fourth and sixth rounds and two in the fifth and seventh rounds.