Carolina Panthers rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly has a knack for racking up tackles, and he carried the high tackle totals from Boston College to the NFL by leading the league with 164 for them. Kuechly started in every game for the Panthers this season both outside and inside and quickly rose to be the Carolina Panthers best linebacker in a talented group of LBs.
Kuechly was the obvious choice for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, and only cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Casey Hayward were serious sources of competition. For some odd reason, Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David garnered three votes (the same number as Jenkins). David is a solid linebacker and will develop into a very good starter for the Bucs, but he just wasn’t at the level Kuechly was this season.
New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones was once on track to win the award early in the season, but an ankle injury in mid-November caused his production (especially as a pass rusher) to tail off even after he returned from the injury. Jones is a breakout star to watch out for next year, as he looked terrific when healthy this year as both a pass rusher and, especially, a run blocker.
Luke Kuechly displays excellent leadership, great range, and he is a disciplined player who excels in run defense. His only glaring weakness is pass coverage, and that is actually a huge weakness for him. But most rookie linebackers struggle in coverage, and that’s especially true for 4-3 MLBs where learning the ropes of coverage are especially difficult. Kuechly’s run defense (just look at those monstrous tackle numbers) more than makes up for his lack of skills in coverage and as a pass rusher when asked to rush up the middle (that’s a very minor knock).
Yeah, the voters definitely got this one right. I wonder if the Panthers will have as good of a hit this year in the 2013 NFL Draft. Let’s hope so, because there are still some gaping needs that need to be filled, and a ROY-type player would knock that need out-of-the-park.
On another note, it will be interesting to see how Kuechly can do in a 3-4. He’s fit perfectly as a 4-3 MLB, so he should be able to transition as a 3-4 ILB. However, it was apparent that Kuechly is far better off as a 4-3 MLB than at OLB based on what we saw after the switch this season, but the switch in scheme shouldn’t affect him significantly.
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