Why Luke Kuechly is one of NFL's best LBs
The Carolina Panthers are close to signing Luke Kuechly to a huge contract extension Thursday, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Chances are that whatever the deal ends up being for, Kuechly will be worth the price.
Kuechly is only 24 years old, which is incredible for someone who has already been voted Defensive Player of the Year. He has become a mainstay in the discussion of the top defensive players in the NFL in that short time as well. There are not many LBs in the NFL who show as much preparation during a game as he does.
His coverage skills can be special at times. He knows how to lean to favorite receivers on route concepts, he knows how to react off the QB’s vision in zone concepts, he can run the middle of the field in Tampa 2 schemes and yet still knows when to sit on a route and take away a throw for a potential first down on Tampa 2 beaters. Kuechly isn’t the only LB who prepares to know these things, but his ability to execute them can make for a special player.
People often mention tackles when discussing the play of linebackers, but what makes a player great against the run is not a stat, it is his play recognition and ability to shed blockers. Kuechly also shines in this area, with instincts and vision while allowing a play to unfold. Rarely do you see Kuechly out of position on a run play, and more often than not you will also see him pursue with effort to make up for others’ mistakes.
Perhaps most impressive is that Kuechly has improved every single year he has been in the NFL. Some may argue his 2013 campaign was better than his 2014 season, but the PFF grades tell a different story. In 2013, he graded out at +11.1, while improving all the way to +28.4 in 2014. The difference in perception is consistency. Kuechly’s 2013 season was filled with very impressive splash plays and good play overall, but there were lapses that were big enough to drop his grade. In 2014, Kuechly became a much cleaner player, and while he may not have been as “electric”, the steady pulse of great play was really something to watch.
It is rare for a player as young, impressive, and talented as Kuechly to come along, and the Panthers will be smart to lock him up for a long time.