Luke Kuechly is an incredibly instinctual defender who has an extraordinary feel for the game. These skills more than make up for his lack of elite size and athleticism. For this reason Kuechly deserves to be mentioned with the 2012 NFL Draft's elite and could go as high as the Top 10 once it's all said and done.

Introduction:

Luke Kuechly is a three-year starter who immediately took over the reigns after Mark Herzlich (New York Giants) had informed his team and general public that he had been diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Kuechly went on to become the ACC Rookie of the Year for his play in 2009. In 2010 Kuechly moved inside and set school records for tackles in a season and was named a 1st team All-American, which was the first in Boston College History since 1998. This season Kuechly once again blew up the stat sheet by accounting for an astounding 191 tackles, which was good enough for most in the nation. For his career Kuechly accounted for an amazing 532 tackles breaking his school and conference records set by Stephen Boyd, who made 524 career stops in his illustrious career. Luke Kuechly also went on to receive numerous awards at the culmination of the 2011 season including The Butkus Award, Lombardi Award, LOTT Impact Trophy and Bronco Nagurski Trophy. Luke Kuechly has decided to skip his final year of eligibility to enter the 2012 NFL Draft where he is considered by many to be the best linebacker available. Let’s take a look at what makes Luke Kuechly so special.

Grading Scale:

  1. Poor
  2. Average
  3. Above Average
  4. Very Good
  5. Elite

 

Size/Measurables:

Luke Kuechly possesses good but not great measurables for the position at 6-3 235 lbs. While his size is not ideal it is definitely not a huge concern as he shows a compact/nice build for the position in the NFL. Many are considering Kuechly to man the position of inside linebacker at the next level and while his body size might be more suited to an outside linebacker, I believe Kuechly’s most natural fit in the NFL will be at the Mike position. Kuechly looks capable of adding 5-10 lbs. of muscle to his frame. By showing up a few pounds heavier than his college playing weight Kuechly would help hinder some of the flack he has received about his size. Due to his current size limitations Kuechly would be best served to play behind a bigger defensive line and preferably in a 4-3 system where he can stay clean and be allowed to roam and flow to the football with a little more ease and comfortability.

Grade: 2

Instincts/Recognition:

Here is the area of Kuechly game that sets him apart and is more advanced than any other linebacker prospect in the draft. Kuechly does an absolutely great job of diagnosing plays and information by reading his keys. Kuechly’s overall feel for the game is very good as he trusts his eyes and seems to always be around the football. Very rarely does Kuechly take false or mis-steps and he puts himself in great positions to make a play. Kuechly also displays very good discipline and is rarely fooled by play actions or mis-direction type plays. I absolutely love how smart and instinctual Kuechly is, as you can see from his play that he understands and see’s the entire field and play happening in front of him at an alarmingly fast rate. The game comes easy to him and his natural-born instincts are on full display when you watch him play. This one skill is perhaps the most important skill for linebackers to possess as it can make up for a lack of athleticism, which some have to come to question about Kuechly.

Grade: 4.5

Pursuit/Range:

There has been a lot of talk about not only Kuechly’s lack of ideal size for the position but also his ability to make plays sideline to sideline. There is no doubt that Kuechly may not possess very good burst or overall athleticism and quickness but there are things Kuechly does that make up for this. We have already discussed just how quickly Kuechly reads and diagnoses plays, as well as the fact that he doesn’t take too many miss or false steps. All of these things work in Kuechly’s favor as he is able to make up ground by sheer mental intellect and awareness. When watching Luke Kuechly you can see that he possesses a 2nd gear and can accelerate to the football. His top-end speed is nothing special but he does a great job of staying clean and flowing to the football by taking proper angles. There is very little to no hesitation in Kuechly’s game and once he deciphers a play, his read and react skills are fantastic and put him in a postion to make a play. Luke Kuechly’s change of direction and closing speed are just average, however he does an impeccable job of planting and driving to the football taking the most desired path to the ball-carrier. Again this skill appears to be second nature to Kuechly and more than makes up for his inability to wow you with his pure athleticism and range. Kuechly is a player that shows up and plays faster on tape than he will test at the NFL Combine and Pro-day. However, Kuechly is simply a football player who understands the game and has discovered the secret to playing faster than you really are.

Grade: 3.5

Tackling:

Luke Kuechly has made a name for himself with his ability to tackle. His production has been unmatched and he shows the ability to finish the job on a consistent basis. He is not overly powerful and he’s not the type of player to lay the wood or stick players and stop them dead in their tracks. Kuechly does a great job of breaking down in space, playing with good pad level and overall form. Staying square to his target Kuechly keeps his head up and does a good job of shooting his arms up through contact. This allows Kuechly to consistently wrap up his ball-carrier and bring them to the turf. Very rarely will you see Kuechly fail to make a tackle. He is a sure as they come and while they might not be the most flashy hits in the world they are effective and even capable of jarring the ball loose from time to time.

Grade: 4

Coverage:

Luke Kuechly is outstanding in zone coverage. He gets adequate depth on his drops and is very aware of receivers entering his area. Kuechly is very active in coverage and is a reliable defender. He does a nice job settling into his zone and reading the quarterbacks eyes and his reads, showing the innate ability to feel the play developing and pick up any players that cross his face. Once a player does cross Kuechly’s face he does a great job of planting and driving to the football, using his 2nd gear and acceleration to come up and make a tackle. Kuechly does have some man to man limitations due to his lack of elite range and somewhat slow change of direction and lateral agility. However, Kuechly doesn’t appear to have stiff hips, nor does he tend to get flat-footed when quarterbacks execute pump fakes or manipulate defenders using their eyes and shoulders. Kuechly is a disciplined player that is smart and reliable and is a very good fit for a Cover 2 type defense.

Grade: 3.5

Point of Attack:

Being that Luke Kuechly is a smaller player he has a tendency to get caught up in the wash sometimes when offensive lineman are able to pick him up and get on his body at the 2nd level. One of the reasons I really love Luke Kuechly as a player is because you can tell he understands team defense and what his gap assignments or responsibilities are. Kuechly does a nice job filling his gap and taking on blockers with the correct shoulder to maintain his gap integrity and discipline. When engaged he has above average to good strength at the point of attack but could play with better pad level at times. He does a nice job of using leverage to his advantage and shows the ability to stack and shed or disengage from his opponent, although this isn’t particularly his strong suit. What Kuechly is very good at is keeping defenders off his body entirely. He shows a degree of slipperiness and knows how to slip by blocks and avoid the defenders trying to get a body on him to make his way to the football.

Grade: 3.5

Pass Rush/Blitzing:

This is an area of Kuechly’s game that is hard to grade not because he can’t blitz but just because he wasn’t asked to do this all too often at Boston College. Kuechly does lack some athleticism and his closing burst is just average at this point. However, Kuechly does do a good job of making plays behind the line of scrimmage and knows how to shoot gaps. It will be interesting to see how or if Kuechly will be used as a pass rusher, which my guess would be not. His main strengths include helping out in the run and pass game, however he is a much better coverage player than true threat to get after the quarterback. Kuechly probably wont make too many sacks in his career but he shows above average awareness, instincts, and hustle which should allow him to make some splash plays behind the line of scrimmage from time to time.

Grade: 2.5

Intangibles:

Luke Kuechly is a player who has been identified as having a strong work ethic and sound character attributes. His team looks to him for leadership and the passion, hustle, and motor he shows on the football field is enduring and inspiring to his defensive team-mates. Kuechly has proved to be a team player and his mental IQ and football intelligence is something that speaks to his off the field work in the film room. Luke Kuechly is extremely disciplined and his instincts and awareness are two of the best attributes he has going for him. His production at the collegiate level is unquestioned, although many do consider tackle totals to be mis-leading and not a true measure of how good a player is or will be. Kuechly has also shown good durability during his career and has missed very little if any time at all due to injury. Luke is probably never going to wow anyone with his overall athleticism and will likely take a backseat with his on field measurables at his pro-day and NFL Combine performances. However, it will be in team meetings and interviews where NFL personnel men and scouts fall in love with Kuechly as he is truly a student of the game with a high football IQ.

Grade: 4.5

Overall Grade:

 28/8 = 3.5 (Above Average-Very Good)

Projection:

I’m putting my money on Luke Kuechly. He deservedly warrants first round consideration due to his incredible instincts and overall feel for the game. In my book he is the top linebacker in this entire draft and has an outside chance at cracking the Top 10 overall, despite his lack of very good measurables for the position. When it’s all said and done Luke Kuechly will likely find his way into the Top 10 on my personal Big Board. His football intelligence and overall ability is just too much and greatly outweighs the few negatives Kuechly has going for him. He may not fly to the football like some would prefer but his read and react skills are second to none and do a good job of masking his lack of elite playing speed. Kuechly should enjoy a long-playing career and will likely eclipse the 100+ tackle mark season after season. Luke Kuechly is a player you can feel safe about choosing because you know what you’re getting and you know what you’re not.  He’s not an elite physical specimen but he’s simply a football player that understands the game and produces. The team that winds up drafting Kuechly will be getting a solid player capable of producing a good number of Pro-Bowl worthy seasons, while becoming an excellent starter for years to come.

Thanks for reading my report-

-Brandon

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