It seemed like a good pick at the time, but after just NFL one season and a handful of preseason contests this year it looks like it could be a great one. Now the national media, like USA Today on Friday, is taking notice of the Panthers’ middle linebacker Luke Kuechly saying he could be the next Ray Lewis.
While both are considered impact players, Kuechly does not come with the Lewis bravado, he simply comes to play football.
Kuechly was a tackling machine out of Boston College and he piled up enough honors to fill a good-sized room. Three times he was named First-team All-American and First-team All- Atlantic Coast Conference, twice named a postseason bowl game MVP, just to name a few.
In his final collegiate season he added the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Butkus Award, Lombardi Award, Lott IMPACT Trophy and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy.
That stellar résumé was good enough to make Kuechly the ninth overall selection by the Carolina Panthers in the 2012 NFL Draft and after just one season as a professional some may be wondering why he did not go higher.
At 21, he came to his first pro training camp not knowing what to expect. His mindset was to just go out and work hard, have a little fun and contribute any way he could. All he did was begin the season as the starting weakside linebacker and after four games move to his more natural spot in the middle when Jon Beason went down with a season ending injury.
Kuechly broke the ACC record for career tackles so maybe it was not so surprising he would set a new team mark while leading the NFL in that department to become the first rookie to do that since Patrick Willis of the San Francisco 49ers turned the trick in 2007. Press box stats had him making 164, far less than the more than 200 the coach’s film review showed, but the numbers were impressive nonetheless.
Like his days at BC, Kuechly impresses with his quickness and instinct. He has a nose for the football and has a motor that won’t shut off. In college he even begged to play on special teams, that is how much he loves to play the game. Panthers’ head coach Ron Rivera knows he has a special player so don’t expect to see him on punts and kickoffs.
Rivera is a defensive minded coach and his team took a major step in 2012 and Kuechly was at the heart of that success. The Panthers were in the upper half in three of four key categories – 12th in points (a 17.0 average), 11th in yards (291) and 5th against the rush (70.0) while being a respectable 17th against the pass (221.0).
During his rookie campaign Kuechly would garner defensive player of the week and defensive player of the month honors and at the end of the season added a few more including the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year, Pro Football Weekly/PFWA Defensive Rookie of the Year and Pro Football Weekly/PFWA All-Rookie, but he is not about to rest on his laurels.
“Moving forward [my mindset] is to keep improving on what’s going on in the defense,” he said when training camp opened. “[I need to] pick up small little intricacies this year. Do my job, make plays and just have fun. I think that’s what we are going to try to do on defense this year is just having fun and I think we started doing that towards the end of the season and that’s when we started playing better. So we just got to go out, do our jobs, make plays and have fun.”
Name: Luke Kuechly – LB – #59
Weight: 235 lbs.
Hometown: Cincinnati, OH
College: Boston College
Experience: 2 years