The Carolina Panthers were in desperate need of help at defensive tackle, cornerback, and wide receiver– and yet the front office elected to spurn those ideas in favor of sticking to a BPA approach, best-player-available of course being entirely based on their board, not popular opinion.
Four games is too early to evaluate a draft pick, but it's fun to look around the league at the other players who were pegged for the Panthers, and to see if anyone has out-performed Kuechly thus far.
Luke Kuechly, LB- Carolina Panthers
26 tackles, 5 runs stuffed, 2 passes defended
A tale of two linebackers, Kuechly looked out of his depth against the Buccaneers and Saints, but has really come into his own in the last two weeks. He is on pace for over 100 tackles, and if that happens in his rookie year it will justify the selection.
10 tackles, 1 sack, 1 run stuffed, 2 passes defended
Cox has yet to start a game for the Eagles, but has been an effective rotational defensive tackle. On pace for 40 tackles is impressive for a DT, and Cox was admittedly my choice for who the Panthers went with in the draft. However, given he can't crack the starting lineup yet, and is taking advantage of 3rd down situations it's hard to argue he would have been the right choice.
Better the Kuechly? No, not through four games anyway.
10 receptions, 79 yards
According to Joe Person the Panthers were hoping Blackmon would fall to them, and that if he was available they definitely would have taken him. In a combination of offensive failure, and his own lack of ability Blackmon has been unable to make an impact for the Jaguars.
Better than Kuechly? No way
6 tackles, 1 pass defended
Imagine a world where a guy with sub-par film and an amazing combine isn't living up to expectations.... you're living in it! Dontari Poe has started four games, and made almost no impact for the Chiefs. Watching him on film is even worse, as he's consistently unable to handle his man, and his six tackles fell into his lap. Analysts are stunned by how poor he's looked so far, though to be fair he's always been a project.
Better than Kuechly? ROFL
20 tackles, 1 FF, 7 passes defended
Tackles are a great metric to evaluate success in linebackers and defensive linemen– defensive backs... not so much. This is typically an indication that an opposing QB isn't afraid of you, and/or they're going to pick on you. Gilmore has defended a lot of passes, but this is more a product of him adapting to playing very loose coverage than making great plays. On film he reminds me a lot of Richard Marshall, and that's okay given he's just four games in.
Better the Kuechly? Stephon Gilmore is better than I expected, but he's not better than Kuechly yet.
Brockers has been injured thus far, and only managed to play in one game. He did nothing.
Better the Kuechly? No way to know due to injury, but not so far.
6 tackles, 2 runs stuffed
The Carolina Panthers took a long look at Coples leading up the draft, and met with his family in the 11th hour. Ultimately they felt he wasn't the right fit, and so far that's paying off. Not only is he not looking dominant on the field, but he has a lot of rumored off-field issues with the coaching staff surrounding his playing time.
Better than Kuechly? No.
5 receptions, 43 yards, 1 TD
With Larry Fitzgerald getting all the attention, and playing on a successful team, this should be a situation whee Floyd is tearing up the NFL, and yet that hasn't happened. Fitzgerald tweeted in the off-season that Floyd wasn't dedicated, and he looks almost identical to the player who was effective at Notre Dame– the problem? That isn't good enough for the NFL, and he needs to take the next step.
Better than Kuechly? No.
These examples are a classic case of games being played on the field, not on paper. Each of these players should have had more of an 'impact' for the Panthers, and yet all are struggling on their respective teams. It shouldn't be lost on anyone that Luke Kuechly was depicted as 'NFL ready', while many of these players were projects, however in terms of immediate gains it's impossible to argue any player pegged to be selected around the top-ten would have been better for the Panthers than Kuechly.