Why the Panthers took Kuechly

The Carolina Panthers took linebacker Luke Kuechly with the ninth overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft Thursday evening.

The Carolina Panthers took linebacker Luke Kuechly with the ninth overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft Thursday evening.

Here's an overview of the newest Carolina Linebacker from our friends at Optimum Scouting LLC optimumscouting.com

PLAYER COMPARISON: Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens

BACKGROUND / CHARACTER


Kuechly, who patterns his play after Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis, understands the importance of film study and how to prepare like a professional for gameday; as a sophomore, he told his defenseive coordinator that, "I want to know the defense as well as you do." The first player in meetings, the first player on the practice field, and the first player to ask for additional tape to watch, Kuechly's work ethic is second to none. Kuechly approaches the game, with the mindset of making every tackle, and isn't concerned with how he looks or how big the hit is, but is only concerned with the final result of a made tackle. Humble and professional in the way he goes about his business, Kuechly carries himself off the field with class. By his own admission, Kuechly isn't an overly vocal leader, rather leading with his work ethic, attention to detail, and by presenting a good example to other players. The type of player that can come in and start day 1, be the leader of the defense, command the defensive huddle, and earn the respect of teammates on and off the field. entally matured player that can be trusted to provide consistent play and production throughout his career in the NFL.

OVERALL


Having an impressive blend of instincts and football IQ, Luke Kuechly will rarely misread a play. Diagnoses blocking schemes quickly and runs to flow exceptionally. Perfect example of sideline-to-sideline, tackle backer; does an excellent job of chasing down the zone stretch, mirroring the tailback down the line of scrimmage, and breaking down on the ball carrier to finish the tackle. Takes consistently good pursuit angles, limiting big play opportunities for the opposing team. Gives plus effort, down in and down out, and has a nose for the football; always ends up around the ball and is arguably the most active defensive player entering the 2012 NFL Draft. As noted already, Kuechly has sideline-to-sideline range as a run defender, but often overlooked is his range in pass coverage. Though he is not consistent in getting proper depth to his hook to curl zones, Kuechly has shown the ability to turn and run the seam with either a slot Y or an in-line tight end. Does not play as strong, explosive, or powerful as combine numbers would seem to indicate, being overwhelmed by uncovered interior linemen, unable to stack and shed, and a lack of snap or explosion as a tackler.

PASS TECHNIQUE


Kuechly's film study, preparation, and understanding of the game, come into full view when examining his coverage skills, as he shows impressive route recognition. Reads the eyes of the quarterback in zone coverage, while also staying aware of incoming routes into his zone. Gets his hands on receivers as they enter the middle of the field, redirecting crossers and passing them off to the next zone defender. While Kuechly can be occuppied with play action, but is able to quickly redirect back into position; good feet for his size, light on his toes, and moves well laterally within his hook-tocurl drop zone. Has the speed and hips to turn open and run the seam; could play the middle linebacker position in a cover 2 buc scheme, with the ability to cover the deep middle. Tracks the football very well, and displays plus ball skills, hauling in 7 interceptions over his 3 year career. Demonstrates click and close ability at times, being able to plant and drive on the throw; also has closing speed to break off from zone coverage and chase down scrambling quarterbacks. Rarely given an opportunity to rush the quarterback, Kuechly notched only 2.5 sacks during his 3 years at Boston College.

ATHLETICISM


Luke Kuechly put to rest any doubts regarding his overall athleticism, explosiveness, speed, and strength with a stellar NFL Combine workout; running a 4.5 40 yard dash, broad jumping 10'3", posting a 38" vertical, repping 225 lbs on bench 27 times, and looking fluid and smooth throughout positional drills. Certainly looks the part, possessing prototype, starting NFL linebacker size at 6'3, 242 lbs; durable player that doesn't have a serious college injury to note. Showcases great balance when turning and running the seam with opposing tight ends or slot receivers, as well as when he is simply dropping to a hook-to-curl zone; fluid moving backer that keeps his feet well on the move and in coverage. Can plant and drive on the throw, closing hard on underneath throws; also does a nice job of redirecting and pursuing the quarterback in scrambling situations, quickly accelerating to the runner. Plays with good pad level and bend, despite standing a tall 6'3; able to drop his hips and sit into position, with an upright back and keeping his eyes on the football at all times. Can be rigid at times when breaking down for a tackle. Upper body strength and lower body explosion exhibited in combine testing does not consistently show on the field, a byfactor of his intelligent approach to the game; has reasonable upside based on measurables, size to speed ratio, and near elite athleticism.

RUN TECHNIQUE


An elite chase and tackle linebacker with tremendous pursuit skills, instincts, range, and intelligence, Luke Kuechly consistently wraps up well and rarely misses a tackle. Really fires his arms and hands through the runner, wrapping and latching onto the runner with force. Picks his way through trash exceptionally well, and always gets in correct position to make a play on the runner. Disciplined with his footwork and gap integrity, but is easily turned in the hole, does not show a willingness to violently attack oncoming blockers in order to stack and shed, and looks overwhelmed at times, when covered up by an interior lineman. Needs to consistently lock out at the point of attack, utilize his upper body strength by being the initiator of contact, and attack the blocker's chestplate. Makes a majority of his plays when uncovered; I am not convinced he can consistently make plays while faced with an uncovered lineman, and therefore see him as a 4-3 only mike backer. Must improve leverage and anchor at the point of attack, as he "ragdolls" at contact, not keeping his feet underneath himself, grabbing and dragging the ball carrier to the ground. Conversely, Kuechly, when faced with an oncoming cut block, uses his hands well to engage the cutter, drops his hips and lowers his pad level to shed. Does a good job of working around blocks when pursuing to the outside stretch or toss.

SUMMARY


Luke Kuechly, All-American standout from Boston College, is the complete package in terms of what coaches look for in their starting middle linebacker; the hardest worker on his teamer, the smartest player on the defense, the most prepared player on the defense, and the most active player of the defense. His rare combination of instincts and football intelligence, is what sets him apart from any of the other linebackers in this draft class. Kuechly can command a defensive huddle, will earn the respect of coaches and players alike, and will be a difference maker for whichever team that elects to draft him. For reasons previously mentioned, involving his struggles against uncovered linemen, I see Kuechly's best fit being with a 4-3 team.

Physically, Luke Kuechly has everything you look for in terms of size, at 6'3, 242 lbs, speed, running a 4.58 40 yard dash, and strength, with 27 reps on the bench press. Certainly looks the part, finishing at or near the top in all events he participated in at the combine. Perhaps more impressive than any intangible, mental, or physical attribute of Luke Kuechly, is his sheer production of 532 career tackles over the span of 3 seasons, along with 33 consecutive games of double digit tackles. Kuechly understands the game at a high level and simply put, has a nose for the ball. An elite chase and tackle linebacker, Kuechly has sideline to sideline speed and range to make tackles all over the field; is at his best when pursuing to the outside zone stretch, where he can mirror the tailback down the line of scrimmage. Rarely misses a tackle by breaking down at the ball carrier and demonstrating good wrap up technique. Kuechly is comparable to Ray Lewis in the way he prepares, instinctively and intelligently reacts to run flow, and takes excellent angles of pursuit to the runner when chasing from backside; Kuechly also shares a similar weakness with Ray Lewis, in that they both struggle to shed uncovered linemen and must be protected by the defensive scheme. Ideally, Kuechly lands on a 4-3 team that has depth and size at both the 1 and 3 technique defensive tackle positions, which would allow him to freely roam to the football and make plays just as he did at Boston College. All things considered, teams that have a need at the middle linebacker position will have a hard time passing up such a total package, impact defensive player. What Kuechly brings to the table both on and off the field, in terms of leadership, intelligence, size, speed, and production, warrants a mid 1st round draft selection; I fully expect him to be off the board somewhere between the 10th and 20th pick of the draft.


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