Surprises with ability to run downfield with pass receivers
Student of the game
Proven leader by example; passion for the game
Durable, experienced starter
Consistent, reliable producer
Lacks great speed
Not a super athlete
Closing speed is not special
Not an experienced blitzer
Could use another 10-12 pounds of bulk
Summary: Luke Kuechly has been one of the most productive players in college football, at any position, over the past two seasons. He set ACC and school records for career tackle totals with 532 stops. Even without a bowl game in 2011, he made 191 tackles with 12 tackles for a loss, three passes broken up and three interceptions. In 2010, Kuechly had 183 tackles (110 solo) with 10.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and three interceptions.
Kuechly admittedly lacks special foot speed, but he makes up for it in instincts and intelligence. There is no doubt that he is a fabulous run defender who produces good down-and-distance situations for his defense. His read and reaction skills are top-notch. That allows him to get in position to make tackles near the line of scrimmage. Routinely, one would see Kuechly shed a block and make a tackle for a short gain.
Kuechly is extremely sound in pass defense. He does very well in zone coverage and is adept at reading quarterbacks' eyes. Kuechly has enough speed to get deep in his drops and cover more ground than one might think. While he was rarely called on to blitz, he showed some quality blitzing skills in limited opportunities.
Kuechly looks like one of the safest picks in the 2012 NFL Draft. He should be able to play immediately in the NFL, and before long, he could be one of the better run-defending linebackers in the NFL. Kuechly has the ability to play in a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense. Adding weight to help him fight off NFL blockers would be a good idea, especially if he were in a 3-4.
Player Comparison: Zach Thomas. There is no doubt that Kuechly will get drafted ahead of where Thomas went. The Miami Dolphins took Thomas in the fifth round of the 1996 NFL Draft. Kuechly should be a top-20 pick this April. The similarities can be seen in their nose for the ball, secure tackling, top-notch instincts and intelligent play.
Kuechly is taller than Thomas. Once Kuechly gets in a NFL strength and conditioning program, he should be a comparable weight to Thomas, who played in the 240s. Thomas was an eight-time Pro Bowler who recorded more than 1,700 tackles in 12 seasons. Kuechly looks like he could be capable of a similar career.
NFL Matches: Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Arizona, Philadelphia, New York Giants, Detroit
There a plethora of teams that could use Kuechly. The Bucs have had the worst run defense in the NFL in two of the past three years, and Kuechly would be an immediate upgrade. The Bills need a lot of help at inside linebacker; Nick Barnett is not a long-term player. Arizona has issues othere as well because free agent addition Stewart Bradley was a big disappointment.
The weakness of the Eagles' linebackers was a story throughout 2011. Detroit has some quality veterans, but needs more long-term answers for their linebackers. The Giants need a long-term middle linebacker, as Jonathan Goff is a free agent and Greg Jones didn't work out. It would be a surprise if Kuechly made it to New York or Detroit though.