Luke Kuechly is earning the best LB grade of the PFF era

Carolina's Luke Kuechly is the front-runner for defensive player of the year -- and is earning the highest grade PFF has ever given a linebacker.

| 11 months ago
(AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

(AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

Luke Kuechly is earning the best LB grade of the PFF era

When we developed our 0-100 rating system, we made it to account for every great season we’ve seen so far since beginning to grade every NFL player in the 2007 season, and we even prepared for a player to perform a little better than the best we’ve seen.

We did not account for a player playing significantly better than the best we’ve ever seen, and that’s exactly what Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly is doing. He’s playing so well that it has broken the scale to our 0-100 system.

Kuechly has only played in eight games this season, but even if he were to miss the rest of the season, or regress to the level of an average linebacker for the rest of the season, he already has the best grade we’ve seen from an ILB or 4-3 OLB — ignoring those who predominantly pass rush rather than drop into coverage.

If Kuechly continues on the rate he’s on, he will have a +52.3 grade to end the season, which is incredible for a linebacker. He already leads this list of the 10 highest cumulative season grades we’ve ever given a linebacker:

Rank Name Team Year Overall
1 Luke Kuechly CAR 2015 32.2
2 Michael Boley ATL 2007 30
3 Lavonte David TB 2013 28
4 Luke Kuechly CAR 2014 27.4
5 NaVorro Bowman SF 2011 27.3
6 Daryl Smith JAX 2011 26.9
7 Patrick Willis SF 2009 26.7
8 Patrick Willis SF 2012 26.7
9 Leroy Hill SEA 2007 26.4
10 Patrick Willis SF 2010 25.7

Part of his great play is his run defense. His 17.6 run-stop percentage is the best for any defensive player regardless of position with at least 100 snaps against the run. Every linebacker who has at least 20 tackles in the run game this year has missed at least one tackle. Kuechly is one of seven linebackers with 30 or more tackles in the run game, and just one missed tackle.

In coverage he has three interceptions, and four passes defended with no touchdowns allowed. When quarterbacks have thrown his way, they’ve had an NFL passer rating of 47.4, which is the second-lowest among all linebackers. He is the one of just three linebacker with more than 25 tackles in coverage, and only one missed tackle.

Both of these skills were on full display on Thanksgiving in Carolina’s oad win over Dallas. The Cowboys only had 12 designed runs, but Kuechly had two run stops, giving him the best run-stop percentage among linebackers on Thursday. He also had back-to-back interceptions. His +5.4 grade in the game was the fourth-best we’ve given to an inside linebacker this season.

Two weeks ago we named Kuechly the midseason defensive player of the year, and since then his case has become even stronger. What Kuechly is doing right now is exceptionally special.

| Director of Analytics

Nathan has been with Pro Football Focus since 2010. He is the Director of Analytics, an NFL analyst, and a fantasy writer.

  • Vince

    This guy is a monster, geez, I hate carolina,but he’s undeniably the best.

    • John Ethan Edwards

      Only saints fans hate Carolina and they don’t count as people. Get on the hype train, there’s plenty of room, all is forgiven.

    • No fareal, I’m happy for you

      Hating Carolina has to be like hating the Cardinals. It sounds so random to me, that is, unless your an NFC South rivals fan. In that case we hate your team too lol

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  • whatguythatguy

    Kuechly is the best player on this Panthers team and its not even close. Norman is solid and Cam has played far better than anyone could have expected, but Kuechly is a frigging mutant with some sort of superpower. Carolina fans have an absurd chip on their collective shoulder over Cam but Kuechly has kept this team in games they should have lost.
    Ron should put a bit of the Riverboat back in his offense and let Kuechly line up for some offensive snaps. I guarantee you Kuechly would score some touchdowns the way Watt did last season.

    • Noah

      I’ve been saying this since the first time I saw the Watt reception. He’d be an animal at tight end.

    • AnnaRH

      I would respectfully disagree that Panther fans have a “chip on their shoulder” about Cam… I think they jump to his defense because he’s so often a target of criticism, and most Panther fans feel protective of their own! Can’t ever think of an instance of widespread, unfair Luke-bashing, (or ANY Luke-bashing) so no, you don’t get that same reaction from fans in DEFENSE of him (no pun intended ;). But Carolina fans LOVE and APPRECIATE Kuechly LIKE CRAZY!!!! I can assure you that his greatness and his value to this team is RECOGNIZED by ALL Panther fans!!!

    • Josh Knepshield

      I wouldn’t say it’s not close. Norman has not just been solid. That is an absolute insult to the work he has done this year. Kawann Short is a top-3 DT in PFFs ratings.

  • Yao ming

    he missed 3 games

    • Steven

      Just imagine if he didn’t.

    • Steven

      Just imagine if he didn’t.

  • Rod Davis

    The best I’ve seen in my 50 Years !

  • geo2209

    Luke is good, but cmon. The best season ever? Did you watch Ray’s 2003 season of 6 INTs and 121 solo tackles? Cmon now.

    • Tito Puente

      PFF has only been grading people since 2007….

      Which is why they won’t be listing Lawrence Taylor, Ray Nitschke, Mike Singletary, Mike Ditka or Ray Lewis.