The Panthers exited the 2012 draft with seven new players that each will have a chance to make an impact in 2012. None will have a better chance than 1st round pick LB Luke Kuechy. Kuechly brings an impressive resume to the Panthers after three exceptional seasons at Boston College. It's easy to see why the Panthers did not consider trading back with Kuechly on the board. This is the first in a series of posts profiling the Panthers 2012 draft class.
Awards: In 2011 he earned the Bronko Nagurski Award as the nation's top defensive player, the Butkus Award as the nation's most outstanding linebacker and the Rotary Lombardi Award as the nation's best lineman or linebacker...First-team All-American...ACC Defensive Player of the Year...First-team All-ACC selection.
Records Set: Set the school record for career tackles (532) and the season record with 191 in 2011. Set the ACC record for career tackles and was the anchor on the nation's leading rushing defense.
Strengths: Lets start with the physical strengths. Kuechy was a top performer in the LB group at the following drills at the NFL combine: 40 yard dash (4.58 sec), vertical jump (38"), broad jump (123" or 10' 3"), 3 cone drill (6.92 sec), 10 yd shuttle (4.12 sec) and 60 yd shuttle (11.43 sec). At 6'3" 242lbs 31" arm length Kuechy blends size, speed and athletic ability. He registered 27 reps on the bench press so he has plenty of strength as well.
Better yet is Kuechly's instincts for the ball. He can pursuit from side line to side line to stop the run and is exceptional covering TEs and players coming out of the backfield. He sheds blocks well and knows to keep away from trash thrown at his legs. More after the jump...
Weaknesses: The only real weakness anyone can come up with is Kuechly is stronger against the run and in pursuit than getting pressure in the backfield and doesn't make many plays behind the line of scrimmage. That may have more to do with the scheme and his assignment as MLB than a lack of aggressiveness. He still had 12 tackles for loss in 2011.
Value of the Pick: At the moment it seems like a value pick getting the best LB at #9 overall. I think in time the value will only grow as he becomes a Pro Bowl quality player. Kuechy in many ways brings more value to the Panthers than Von Miller did the Broncos being selected #2 overall last season. So at worst Kuechly was selected at the right pick based on his ratings.
Fit in the Depth Chart: Kuechly has mostly played MLB and the Panthers already have a Pro Bowler at MLB in Jon Beason so there is a bit of controversy here. Though its a question mark which LB spot Kuechy will play to begin with he will definitely be on the field come game one against the Bucs. The easiest solution would be to leave Jon Beason at MLB and have Kuechly play the weakside while Thomas Davis continues his rehab. Yet the Panthers may see a different line up long term and may decide to go ahead and move some veteran players to get Kuechly where he is best suited. Whether that is the middle or even strong side it remains unclear.
You can read a nice comparison here by James Dator between Kuechly and former Panther great LB Dan Morgan
Highlight Video from winning the Butkus Award: