- A closer look at the Panthers' picks: Round 1/9 -- Luke Kuechly, LB, 6-3, 242, Boston College...A smart and steady linebacker who could play any of the three spots the Panthers use. Likely plays the middle in the long run, though he's fast enough to play the weak side without sacrificing anything. - The Sports Xchange
Full *Luke Kuechly News Wire
When Luke Kuechly was initially timed in 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine, NFL scouts sat up in their seats in anticipation of his second attempt.
A poor get-off led to an unofficial 4.78, leading to a rare request for a third run inside Lucas Oil Stadium.
It was critical for teams to get a grasp for just how athletic the record-setting tackling machine is. It could be the difference between a two-down prospect worthy of a first-round grade, or a potential three-down 'backer locked into the first day of the draft.
The third attempt was timed at an unofficial 4.58, and Kuechly put an exclamation on his money-making workout with a 38-inch vertical - third-best among all linebackers in Indianapolis.
Much like running backs on the other side of the ball, inside linebackers have been devalued in recent years, especially with more teams making the switch to 3-4 schemes. Kuechly isn't going to go step-for-step downfield with the plethora of big, fast and sure-handed tight ends infiltrating the NFL, but if he can hold his underneath he becomes infinitely more valuable.
Having put on five pounds since the end of last season, Kuechly knew it was critical to show his mobility.
"That was one of the big things coming in (to the Combine), I had to prove I was a sufficient size," he said. "The biggest thing is being able to move with the weight you have. That was something with me, I've been working on. Getting speed with the same time and still being able to move."
Kuechly's calling card is his instincts for the position, which led to 532 tackles in just three seasons at Boston College - a ridiculous average of 14 tackles per game, including 7.9 solo.
"I think I'm a smart player. I think I do a pretty good job preparing myself," he said. "That's something I take pride in. Being prepared, and knowing what each individual guy is responsible for. I can point at different guys, and let them know what they're doing if they have questions. I take pride in having the ability to do that. And doing that, and knowing what everyone is doing, you can play faster. It allows you to be more successful."
And he welcomes comparisons to past and current NFL players known primarily as great tacklers. A popular comparison is former Dolphins perennial Pro Bowler Zach Thomas.
"To be mentioned with somebody like him that had a great career like him that played in the NFL that long, it's a great honor," said Kuechly. "It's good to
emulate people like that because they had great success."
Read & React: Intelligent player who knows his keys and "feels" his way to the ball. Aggressiveness allows him to be fooled by those keys, like pulling guards, on misdirection and takes a false step forward on play action, but also recovers well and regularly sniffs out reverses and other trick plays to prevent big gains.
Run defense: Constantly around the ball, fights traffic easily and steps into gaps instead of waiting for the ballcarriers. Tracks the ball to either sideline but needs perfect angles to beat NFL tailbacks to perimeter. Anchors and can stick bigger backs with lowered pads. Doesn't have elite size to stand up to NFL-caliber linemen, but regularly rips off blocks with strong hands and can make plays even if initially knocked backward.
Pass defense: Not an elite athlete. Covers some ground in pass coverage and gets good depth in his drop, taking correct angles to stay with tight ends and bigger slot receivers down the middle. Takes time to reach running backs going into the flat. Reliable tackler in the middle zone to prevent yards after the catch on crossing routes.
Tackling: Secure tackler by not a feared one -- plays strong and finds a way to bring down ballcarriers. Drops his hips, keeps his head up to drag down ballcarriers. Makes running backs pay for going out of bounds with a strong shoulder. Occasionally tries to tackle high, allowing the ballcarrier to elude. Relies on hustle and angles, not straight-line speed, to make plays outside the box.
Pass Rush/Blitz: Didn't blitz often and lacks great closing speed to reach the quarterback from the stack. Sure open-field tackler who doesn't miss many once he's in the backfield with excellent tackling technique.
Intangibles: Exceptional on-field hustle and instincts and off-field work ethic. Gained good weight and muscle since arriving at BC. Should garner top general and football character and intelligence grades. Serves as back-up long snapper.