I had to do a double take Saturday afternoon when I saw that the Panthers had drafted A.J. Klein. It wasn't because I didn’t like the pick, I loved the pick, but I was surprised that he had fallen to the fifth round. I immediately grabbed my phone and texted my roommate Nick, who was a defensive back for Iowa State last season. His reaction was similar to mine. He used words like "steal" "complete package" "fierce" "leader" and "total badass."
For the last four years, Klein has been a total badass in the Big 12. He earned multiple honors during his tenure at ISU, including two all conference linebacker spots and a share of the 2011 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year award. (Who did he share it with? That would be current Panther DE Frank Alexander.)
Klein's rise to stardom in Ames began similarly to the path laid out in front of him now. As a true freshman, Klein was assigned to the special teams, where his impact was quick. He secured a starting spot the following year and did not disappoint. Klein recorded double digit tackles in his first three games as a starter. At the final whistle of his sophomore campaign, Klein had recorded 111 total tackles, 1 fumble recovery, and 3 INTs. (2 of which he returned for TDs. He shares the NCAA record for TAINTs by a linebacker with 4.) He earned honorable mention All-Big 12 Conference honors, the first of many defensive recognitions from a conference known for high powered offenses.
Klein's junior season was the best statistically of his career. He finished with 117 total tackles, 1 TAINT, and 2 sacks. Against elite competition, including Landry Jones, Collin Klein, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin, anchored a defense that ranked in the top five of the conference, and included a signature win against #2 Oklahoma State. He finished second in the conference in total tackles and was awarded the Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year. Klein was instrumental in turning the former Big 12 doormat into a (relatively) feared opponent.
His senior season saw a drop off in production, but that was due to a number of unforeseen circumstances. Klein played out of position for a majority of the season, and struggled through the transition. He finished third in the conference with 115 total tackles, 1 TAINT, and 1 sack. Even with the change in position, his numbers were still good enough to earn all-conference honors.
Klein, as described by his former teammate, is a fervent leader. Whatever physical attributes he lacks, he makes up for in hark work, intensity, passion, and football knowledge. NFL.com describes Klein as a very intelligent and instinctual football player, and that instinct will be beneficial during his transition to the NFL. Klein will better this team's special teams unit, but his ceiling goes much higher. He was critical in changing the football culture in Ames, and I have similar expectations for him as a Carolina Panther.
AJ Klein teaches us the art of the Pick Six.