Over the next week or two CSR will be examining a player coming up in the 2012 draft, and comparing him to a player from the NFL's past. Today I'm looking at standout BC linebacker Luke Kuechly, and in a blast from the past comparing him to our own Dan Morgan.
Two Butkus award winners, two tackling machines- say what you will about Dan Morgan's unceremonious end to his career in Carolina, but he entered the league with all the pedigree you want out of a linebacker. Morgan wasn't always the most instinctive of players, but he had the closing speed and athleticism needed to make up for this. As such he became one of the Panthers defensive cornerstones in the early 2000s, and his reliable tackling ensured that if a player managed to squeeze through the mammoth Panthers' DL they didn't stand a chance.
Enter Luke Kuechly, another ACC linebacker and Butkus winner but one who shares some of the characteristics with Morgan. Looking at the gamelog for Luke Kuechly we're reminded of something out of a video game: 19 tackles against Virginia Tech, 20 tackles against Florida State, 18 tackles and an interception against Northwestern.... the list goes on. What makes Kuechly such a great linebacker is his pre-snap adjustments and first step instincts. He always seems to know where the play is going, and makes a point of getting involved on every play he can physically reach.
More after the jump
This is an area both Morgan and Kuechly mirror each other. On film you see a suddenness to both players games where they have that knack for swarming to the ball and quickly wrapping up the carrier. This is coupled with near flawless technique and a lateral speed that allows they to keep up with tight ends and running backs alike.
Unlike when the Panthers selected Dan Morgan to play MLB their need now is for a reliable outside linebacker as an insurance policy in case Thomas Davis' knee can't hold up. This is something the Panthers will need to scrutinize with Kuechly, because he has the speed to play the position, but at times seemed lost in pass coverage in 2011. This is something a played like Jimmy Graham would eat up on Sundays.
Kuechly has a major advantage here. He possesses an ability like Jon Beason to bark out line adjustments and organize the defense when he's on the field. Kuechly then follows through after the snap by quickly putting himself into running lanes and dismantling a team's ability to rush. Make no mistake- he wasn't surrounded by any stout talent on his DL, it was all Kuechly.
Dan Morgan certainly had an above average football IQ, but Kuechly's is off the charts.
This is an aspect of this comparison that is really on a razors edge. Both Morgan and Kuechly were extremely good at stuffing the run, but through using different methods. On film Morgan was more manic, bull-rushing and shedding blocks to get to the carrier quickly. Meanwhile Kuechly is a far more methodical linebacker who is happy to sit back, diagnose and then close on the play when the ball is snapped. The result is that both players close with equal speed, but Kuechly's ability to diagnose plays better causes him not to over commit.
Neither Morgan nor Kuechly were world class in this regard, but I have to give the edge to Dan Morgan. He tended to play his receivers more physically, and doled out more punishment when/if they crossed the middle. Luke Kuechly is decent in this regard, but he's not quite as violent as Morgan. The result of this is that he rarely separates receivers from the football, as Morgan did routinely.
With some time in an NFL weight program and training I have no doubt Kuechly could develop this skill, but as it stands he's not quite there yet.
You have very similar players here; one uses his athleticism to make his plays, the other his intelligence. That being said, it is easier to get a player to harness his speed and strength rather than trying to improve his football IQ. As such I believe in drafting Luke Kuechly you ostensibly get Dan Morgan out of the gate, with the potential to get him to utilize his athleticism to become more of an impact player.
There are many models for how the Panthers should improve their run defense, but few would have as big an immediate impact as adding Luke Kuechly to the linebacking corps. Based on their college film these are my grade:
- Dan Morgan (2000): 88/100
- Luke Kuechly (2011): 92/100