Even though the top two picks in the 2012 NFL draft are already known to be quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, former Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly may be the best player at his position in the draft. Kuechly finished the 2011 season with 191 tackles, leading the NCAA and having the second-highest total ever. He also paced the NCAA in tackles as a sophomore, and finished just four off the first-place total as a freshman. Last season, Kuechly finished with 32 more tackles than the next highest player en route to breaking the ACC record-in only three years at the school. In comparison, the consensus No. 1 pick Andrew Luck, by the metric of quarterback rating, had just the fifth best season of NCAA quarterbacks. That’s not to say he shouldn’t be taken before Kuechly, but it shows how dominant Kuechly was at his position.
The skills that allowed Kuechly to put up those numbers will translate to the NFL. He has an uncanny nose for the ball and is a solid tackler. His instinct to find the ball isn’t something that can be taught-either you have it or you don’t, and Kuechly has it. Kuechly has shown the ability to recognize plays quickly in both run and zone defenses. The extra time he has from promptly picking up plays allows him to get in prime position for blocks and tackles.
Additionally, Kuechly has the physical stature needed to succeed in the NFL. He stands at 6-foot-3 and 242 lbs. In comparison, top linebacker Patrick Willis is listed at 6-foot-1, 240. Kuechly also ran a 4.58 40-yard dash, which quelled scouts’ questions about his athleticism. The knock on Kuechly is that he’s not especially fast or explosive-scouts must not have watched his game against Miami last year when he returned an interception for 45 yards and the score. Former BC linebacker Mark Herzlich had high praise for Kuechly.
“His speed is what really stood out when we played together,” Herzlich told ESPN.com. “There would be times when I would wonder if we would get to a play, and he’d come out of nowhere to make it.”
Kuechly is an especially smart player, something of extreme importance in the NFL. The game on Sunday is a product of intense hard work by players and coaches during the week. This includes knowing the playbook and preparing how to attack different offenses. Kuechly has shown the ability to grasp the defensive scheme he plays in, and should have no problem adjusting to the NFL.
“I do a pretty good job preparing myself,” Kuechly told ESPN.com. “That’s something I take pride in. I can point at different guys and let them know what they’re doing if they have questions. And doing that, and knowing what everyone is doing, you can play faster.” With Kuechly, NFL teams know they’re getting a player who’s intelligent and will know the playbook in and out.
Scouts have also been impressed by his work ethic. With the investment teams put into players drafted in the top 10, they need to make sure a player is dedicated to the game.
The best way to build a team in the league is through the draft, and making a mistake on a high draft choice can set a franchise back a few seasons. The team that drafts Luke Kuechly will be getting an anchor for its defense for years to come. The best defensive teams of the recent era have had a franchise player in the middle, whether it be Ray Lewis of the Ravens or Brian Urlacher of the Bears. That’s the best-case scenario for Kuechly. And while he may not reach that high, he will be a solid player in the NFL: exactly what teams drafting in the top 10 are looking for.