Luke Kuechly might not have the highest tackle total, or the most sacks but he's still one of the best linebackers in the NFL.
Pro Football Focus updated their player grades following week six, and Kuechly stands above the rest at a +8.1 grade on the season -- best in the NFL.
The evolution of Kuechly has been from tackling machine to all-around star. He's playing much better football this year, despite having less eye-popping plays in 2013. This can often be a hard idea to grasp, especially given that we've become conditioned to equating statistics with success.
Kuechly finished with a +5.2 rating last year on the back of stellar run stopping play. He graded at +8.8, mitigating his struggles in coverage and as a pass rusher. This season he's able to make plays in both phases of the game, stopping runs at almost an equal rate (+6.2) while improving his pass coverage to being a strength, now at +2.5. Kuechly is allowing just 7.8 yards per reception in coverage, third among 4-3 middle linebackers.
The Panthers' middle linebacker will never evolve into a true pass rusher, it's not his game. Kuechly tends to get lost in the pile without a great way of fighting his way into the backfield, but that's really not an issue if your outside linebackers and defensive line can get pressure.
Where he's winning the most is making stops. These are defined by Pro Football Focus as:
Stops are what we judge to be tackles that prevent an offensive success (defined as gaining 40% of required yardage on first down, 60% on second down, and the entire required yardage on third or fourth).
In short: Stops are more important the tackles. They define how a player is making plays, rather than being the last man in and adding an assist. This season Kuechly has an astonishing 24 stops on 31 tackles, a stop rate of over 77-percent. This is a huge number, and by comparison Sean Lee of the Dallas Cowboys has a stop rate of 45-percent, while Patrick Willis is at 50-percent.
Enjoy what you're seeing Carolina Panthers' fans, even if it doesn't pop off the screen. Luke Kuechly is having a season for the ages, and it's fun to watch.