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LB Devon Kennard named a "Secret Superstar" by Pro Football Focus

As far as early returns go, the New York Giants couldn't have asked much more of their 2014 draft class.


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Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. grabbed the headlines on his way to becoming the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year and cover athlete of EA Sports' Madden NFL 16. But the group wasn't top-heavy by any means.

Four of the seven members became regular starters as rookies and picked up accolades throughout the season, including fifth-round pick Devon Kennard.

That's why Pro Football Focus recently named the former USC linebacker a "secret superstar" of 2015 after he racked up 43 tackles and 4.5 sacks in his first year in the NFL.

"He was part of the Trojans' defensive end rotation right from the start, but had moved to linebacker before the end of his freshman year, and flitted between the two positions for the rest of his collegiate career," Kevin Connaghan wrote. "That mixed skill-set served Kennard well as a rookie, helping him to a positive grade in all three facets of play, with his greatest impact coming as a pass rusher.

"Kennard made enough of an impression in OTAs and preseason to force his way into the linebacker rotation for the Giants Week 1 game in Detroit. However a hamstring injury cut short his debut after just two snaps, and he wouldn't return to the defensive rotation until Week 7.

From that point on his role grew; only one linebacker, [Jameel] McClain, saw the field more often than Kennard in the final 10 weeks of the season."

It was during that stretch when Kennard did his damage, beginning with nine tackles in his first career start against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 11. Three games later, he was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his six solo tackles, including two sacks, two tackles for losses and a forced fumble in a road victory over the Tennessee Titans. It marked back-to-back weeks with two sacks for Kennard.

"Kennard was at his best coming downfield with force, whether to fill a gap, take on a lead blocker or pulling lineman, or rush the passer, it's something he tended to do well," Connaghan continued. "The Giants used that to good effect."

Meanwhile, Kennard proved he was truly a dual threat.

"Against the Redskins in Week 15, Kennard caught the eye with a batted pass and a strip sack against Robert Griffin III," Connaghan wrote. "However it is two plays against the run that show why he is much more than a blitzing linebacker. With 12:32 on the clock in the first, Kennard set the edge on the left against Logan Paulsen, before peeling off the tight end's block to tackle Alfred Morris for a loss. Then with five minutes remaining in the third, Kennard repeated the trick on the opposite side of the field. He met the Niles Paul's block head on, drove the tight end back two yards to disrupt the point of attack, then came inside of the block to claim another tackle for loss against Morris."

Connaghan added: "Kennard didn't garner the same level of attention as Beckham, few could, but he did have a solid debut of his own."

Check out the best photos of rookie LB Devon Kennard

kennard-center-62215.jpg
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