By Charlie Campbell - @draftcampbell
March 19, 2012
There hasn't been a lot of top-10 buzz around Boston College middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. However, that could change. Kuechly is considered to be the best inside linebacker prospect. Coming off a fabulous Combine performance, Kuechly has earned the attention of at least one top-10 team. WalterFootball.com met up with Kuechly while he was training at IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. as he prepared for his Pro Day. At this point, Kuechly said there wasn't any team, or teams, that were showing heavy interest in him, but two have booked him for visits at their facilities.
"Before the draft, I'm going to Carolina and Tennesee. That's it for right now. Everybody is kind of poking their head in and out. I'm working on scheduling visits. Those are the teams already on the list, but we'll pick up more from now."
Clearly the Panthers need help on defense, although defensive tackle and cornerback have been considered to be their more pressing needs. Carolina has had injury issues with veteran linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis. They also just lost Dan Connor in free agency. Kuechly could provide a long-term leader for their defense. With Carolina hosting Kuechly, he could be considered as a dark-horse candidate for their first-round pick at No. 9.
As for Tennessee, it took linebackers Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy in the 2011 NFL Draft. Kuechly could play Will (weakside) linebacker in their 4-3 defense, or he could man the middle and McCarthy could move to the outside. It would be surprising if Kuechly reached the Titans first-round pick at No. 20 though. If they feel compelled to land Kuechly, Tennessee would have to trade up for him as a result of his great Combine performance. Some questioned the speed and athletic ability of the top linebacker prospect, but Kuechly put those concerns to rest.
"I think one of the questions going into the Combine was what I was going to run. How fast was I? Was I a 4.8 or 4.9 guy? I was able to go out and prove that I can run well."
Kuechly ran an unofficial time of 4.50 (official time, 4.58). Those were excellent times for the 6-foot-3, 242-pounder. He also excelled in the broad jump (10-3), vertical jump (38 inches) and bench press (27 reps). The Combine is just the cherry on the top for Kuechly's draft status. At Boston College, he proved to be an elite linebacker as he led the nation in tackles the past two seasons. He recorded 191 tackles with 12 tackles for a loss, three passes broken up and three interceptions in 2011. Boston College failed to qualify for a Bowl game; otherwise he would have topped 200 tackles on the season.
Kuechly had a dominant showing in his final collegiate game. He sealed Boston College's road win at Miami with an interception that he returned 45 yards for a touchdown. He also had an impressive pass breakup on a deep downfield attempt where he was running stride for stride with speedster wide receiver Tommy Streeter, another prospect who blazed a fast 40 at Indianapolis. With great instincts, intelligence, tackling form and athletic ability all on tape, it makes one wonder why there were speed concerns with Kuechly in the first place.
"Like you said, [the Streeter pass breakup] was an example of a play that proves where it happens. I just have to stay consistent and stay in shape and keep running."
Event though Kuechly has his Pro Day coming up, he told WalterFootball.com that he plans to sit on his Combine numbers.
"I'm just going to do the position drills and be solid in those and go from there. I'm working out down here getting ready for my Pro Day. The first step was the Combine. The second step is your Pro Day, and the third step is the different interviews and business stuff you have to do. Right now the Pro Day is on my mind. I'll head up there. I have to go there and run well and be fluid. I'll go from there."
Kuechly feels like he is ready for the NFL and has proven to be a three-down linebacker. The NFL has gone to a pass-happy league, and one of Kuechly's strengths is his pass coverage and ability to get deep in his zone drops.
"It is one of those things where we were a big zone team in college. I've done three years in zone coverage. I think it is something I've become more and more comfortable with. People have mentioned it to me, how I've done in zone, so I think it is a strength. We didn't do a whole lot of [man coverage], so that is something I will have to pick up and learn, but something that I can definitely do."
The 2012 NFL Draft is not deep at inside or outside linebacker, so teams looking for talent in the middle of their defense will have to consider making a move for Kuechly. Many projections have him going outside the top 10, but in the top 20 picks. Kuechly's intangibles with his character and work ethic help prove that he is a safe prospect. The Panthers have the ninth-overall pick and hosting Kuechly illustrates that they deem him worthy of top-10 consideration. Kuechly is happy to let the NFL teams decide where he belongs.
"It was one of those things where I don't think I can say where I belong. I've put in a lot of work. I did well at the Combine and I think I had a good college career. It is not so much up to me, but I can just do my best to interview well and be on top of my game. That is up to the teams and coaches. The different teams make that decision. I've put in the work and done everything I want to do. Its up in the air and I have to let them decide."
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