Luke Kuechly may not make the headlines that Vontaze Burfict does at Arizona State, but there are few that question his raw ability on the field. After taking the place of Mark Herzlich at Boston College as a true freshman, he stepped in and was one of the best linebackers in the nation from the first time he stepped on the field. Kuechly has all the tools to become a stud backer for the next decade, and if anyone can figure out how to pronounce his last name (it's KEEK-lee), you could be hearing it on Pro Bowl rosters for years to come.
@WesBunting:#BostonCollege LB Luke Kuechly isn't the biggest, strongest or fastest, but "plus" tackler w/ great instincts...top tier future NFL tackler
Let's take a look at how a relatively unheralded "tweener" prospect became the NCAA's leading tackler, and elevated himself to being perhaps the first linebacker to be taken in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Coming out of St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Luke was just a three-star recruit after playing safety as a senior. He racked up tackles, sacks and picks all over the field, but he was seen to be a bit of a tweener. Not instinctive enough to play safety at the next level, not fast enough to play outside backer and not big enough to play middle backer. He was not recruited by many major programs coming out of high school, and he expected to play behind Herzlich upon his arrival at Boston College.
But after Herzlich was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, Kuechly was called upon to step in and start at outside backer, and start he did. He finished his first year for the Eagles with 158 tackles, good for second in the nation. Not bad for an overlooked backer coming out of Ohio. In his sophomore year he was asked to move to the inside, and again he excelled in a new position.
This time around no one in the nation was going to better him in terms of tackles. He led all players with 183 tackles, and had a ridiculous run of 21 straight games with double digit tackles. He is the epitome of consistent and brings a Brian Urlacher-esque effort on every down. His second year at BC was one for the record books, as he earned a Butkus Award nomination and set a school record for tackles in a season. Further, he was the first unanimous All-American that the school produced since 1998.
His junior year was more of the same, only this time he won every award imaginable and continued to shred apart the record books, and not only those at his school but also throughout the ACC. He picked up the Butkus award from Dick himself, and paved the way for a great pro career after colllege.
Kuechly likely had little in the way of hopes for playing pro coming out of high school, as he was the 44th ranked linebacker coming into college. Not exactly first round material. But something changed when he got the chance to start from day one in Chesnut Hill. He had the frame to be a big time pro all along, as he was already 6-foot-3 and 220-pounds as a senior in high school. But he did not have the measurables to garner big time attention.
The thing is with linebackers is that the combine numbers are not always indicative of a successful player. Similar to the quarterback, backers rely heavily on intelligence and instincts, So while Luke may not have had the best 40 or bench press, and this could be the same at the pro combine, he knows how to play the game. NFL Teams that are serious about a prospect will spend as much time in the interview room, measuring a player's intangibles, where Kuechly is sure to shine. Moreover, the game tape tells the story and you can tell that he will be able to step into a pro defense and start from day one.
Know what team badly needs a stud linebacker? The Philadelphia Eagles do, and Erik Galko of Optimum Scouting sends Kuechly their way in his latest mock draft. Their corps was largely the reason that they struggled so badly this year, and Kuechly will fit in to the blue collar town and put the defense on his back.
Burfict is sure to rate higher at the combine, but his short fuse and propensity to take unnecessary penalties will scare off some teams. Kuechly brings no baggage with him, and will be a stud for years to come.
The moral of this story? Never underestimate the average three star outside linebacker coming out of Cincinnati.
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