EAGAN, Minn.—For an accomplished, experienced group like the Minnesota Vikings' defence, maintaining that edge is more of the goal than plowing new ground.
If there's unheralded one player still primed for a breakout, though, middle linebacker Eric Kendricks would be the guy. He's the most prominent member of the defence yet to procure any of those post-season awards, and his performance in 2019 has put him on such a track.
“I always feel like I'm just a little underrated. It is how it's going to be,” Kendricks said.
“I'm trying to be the best person I can be and trying to accomplish things that I've never accomplished before.”
The defence under coach Mike Zimmer has consistently been one of the best in the league, and the Vikings have largely kept up with the standard this season.
Their average allowances in yards per play (4.8), yards per game (310.3) and points per game (15.5) rank fifth, fifth and sixth in the NFL, respectively, and they're tied for eighth in the league with a 50 percent red zone touchdown rate with seven surrendered to opponents in 14 opportunities.
More than half of the lineup has played in at least one Pro Bowl: defensive ends Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter, nose tackle Linval Joseph, outside linebacker Anthony Barr, safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Another established starter, cornerback Trae Waynes, was a first-round draft pick.
Kendricks would love to be the next name on the list.
Kendricks is fifth in the NFL's official statistics with 38 solo tackles.
He's tied for seventh with seven passes defended, one of only two linebackers in the top 12 in the league.
Vikings coaches have credited him with 61 combined tackles, a whopping 25 more than the next-closest player, Barr.
In Minnesota's 38-20 win over Philadelphia on Sunday, Kendricks teamed with cornerback Mackensie Alexander on a third-down sack early in the fourth quarter to force a punt.
A little later, he forced a fumble that Barr recovered to put the game on ice.
Kendricks is more than willing to embrace his status as one of the lesser-known names on this defence.
“We've got a bunch of studs. It is what it is,” he said.
“So that's just one of those things I feel like it's kind of like my life story.”