Second-Year Studs: Luke Kuechly
Last year’s crop of IDP rookies was loaded with fantasy football contributors. Now it’s time to separate who will take the next step or stagnate in their sophomore season. In this series I’ll identify five second-year studs and five second-year duds. Let’s get right to it with the top projected linebacker in 2013: Luke Kuechly.
Kuechly was drafted by the Panthers with the ninth overall pick, establishing extremely high expectations in both the NFL and fantasy football IDP leagues. He began the season playing early downs as the weakside linebacker in Carolina’s 4-3 scheme. But in Week 5 he started in the middle and didn’t miss a snap the rest of the season. Kuechly finished as a Top 3 linebacker in virtually all IDP scoring formats.
“Luuuuuke” as the Panther fans call him, was solid in real football after a slow start on the weakside. In Weeks 1-3 he did post negative grades overall according to the PFF ratings. However, he was able to turn it around after moving to his more natural position in the middle. In Weeks 4-17 he posted six positive, four neutral and three negative grades to finish the year on the plus side overall.
Here’s a look at his stats from 2012 and his projected numbers for 2013 from our IDP projection guru Jeff Ratcliffe.
Luke Kuechly will be an IDP monster in 2013 and leads the way as a second-year stud. This season he’ll play every down as the Mike, be more comfortable in coverage and play behind better talent at defensive tackle. The Panther’s secondary is also very weak which will lead to a high number of snaps for the defense.
Last season Kuechly only posted three solo tackles and six assists in the first two games. That means he had 99 solo stops in 14 games, a torrid pace, over seven per game. This year he’ll be on the field every snap, increasing his tackle opportunities from a year ago where he was 10th in tackle efficiency. Last season Kuechly only played 790 overall snaps. For comparison, two other top scoring linebackers Daryl Washington and James Laurinaitis played 1084 and 1104 respectively. In fact almost every other top 10 linebacker played over 1000 snaps in 2012.
Kuechly will have an entire offseason as the quarterback of the defense. I was at Panthers training camp doing live reports last August as Kuechly looked lost at times, especially in coverage. However, he showed improvement throughout the season and should take an even bigger step in year two. I expect him to improve his fantasy football production on plays where he drops into coverage. This translates to big plays and point production for his IDP fantasy football owners.
In this year’s draft Carolina selected Star Lotulelei (14th overall) and Kawann Short (44th overall) with their first two picks. The two defensive tackles will bolster the interior of the Panther’s line that was dreadful last season. While better defensive line play could take some tackle opportunities away from Kuechly, the fresh talent should occupy blockers effectively allowing him to make even more plays at the point of attack.
Finally, there’s the Panther’s secondary. It’s in need of repair in a bad way. Unfortunately for Carolina, the free agent market is bare and the draft has come and gone. So the Panthers are just going to have to deal with being beaten often in the passing game. The defense will struggle to get off the field on third down leading to more snaps for Kuechly and company.
Kuechly is set up for a monster year. He should be the first linebacker off the board regardless of league type or format. In 2013 he’ll be a second-year stud.