Why Luke Kuechly is NFL's best inside linebacker
To win the 2013 AP Defensive Player of the Year award is quite an accomplishment. To come back the next year and perform at an even higher level is that much more impressive.
That’s what Luke Kuechly did the past two seasons, en route to becoming our top-ranked inside linebacker in the NFL. With reports out now that Kuechly and the Panthers are getting closer to a contract extension, we decided to take a look at what makes him so good.
His marked improvement in all aspects of his game is very impressive:
Overall grade: 11.1 in 2013 versus 28.4 in 2014
Run defense: 8.4 versus 10.8
Pass coverage: 4.0 versus 15.8
Pass rush: -2.9 versus 2.2
Kuechly has gotten better in pass coverage every year, but he took it to a new level in 2014. I have always enjoyed his blend of instincts and responsibility, something only gained through study habits on offensive tendencies and a supreme confidence in trusting eyes and keys.
He plays without hesitation against the run, as well, where he has good vision and ability to track the ball. He knows how to play downhill in daylight – he ranked second in run-stop percentage last season behind only Rolando McClain.
The way Kuechly separates himself from other ILBs across the league is with his play recognition. All good linebackers have it. Ray Lewis, Patrick Willis and London Fletcher — just to name a few. Rarely did you see these players sucked up in the backfield on a pass play, or seven yards deep on a run play.
Kuechly has that same feel, and there’s no one in the NFL right now playing his position better. Carolina will be wise to lock him up to a long-term deal.