He is simply everywhere.
Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly is always one step ahead of the other players on both sides of the ball. He sees plays develop faster, he reacts to them faster and he gets to them faster. He’s one of the few elite players in this year’s class because of his ability to do everything asked of him. That’s further explained below, as well as his outstanding, 60-minute motor.
There aren’t many questions that NFL scouts have about Kuechly, but prior to February’s Combine there were questions about his size. How tall is he? What about his weight? Can he hold his weight and deal with slip blocking guards? 6’3″ and 242 pounds later, the answer was given and the latter question was answered with a simple “yes.”
That size is just right for the position at the next level, as he’s tall enough and not too light or heavy. He carries his weight well too.
Kuechly ran a 4.58 40-yard dash at the Combine, which is impressive, but what matters is how fast he plays on gamedays. There have been linebackers in the past that have ran very well and played slow because they think too much out on the field. There have also been linebackers that ran slow, yet played very fast because they’re very instinctive as was seen with New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes, who ran a very slow time.
Kuechly ran fast and plays fast on tape, and this is particularly noticeable when he’s dropping down the seam and running well enough with a tight end or making a beeline for a pass catcher in the flats.
The greatest strength of Kuechly’s game are his instincts. He’s a very instinctive linebacker that makes big plays in big moments because of his ball awareness, and he’s able to recognize plays very quickly. He often shows the ability to quickly “pull the trigger,” as scouts say, and react to the play, which is why he’s always around the ball.
Balance is an important aspect of evaluation, as it gives a hint to how good of an athlete the player truly is. Kuechly is also strong in this department as he often shows good balance when taking on base blocks or dealing with cut-blocking guards at his feet. He shows the ability to handle trash at his feet and continue his path to the ball carrier.
Stack and Shed
Although it has become a passing league, it is still very important that a defense has quality run defenders, especially in the front seven. If a defense struggles with stopping the run, even if it is situational running, they will have struggles with everything else because the offense’s playbook opens up.
With that said, this is an area of the Boston College product’s game that some have questioned, but the tape suggests otherwise to me. He plays with a strong base and can stack blockers against the run. He’s also able to take on the blocks and then proceed to shed them by disengaging with his quick hands.
As a space player, you must be able to consistently bring down the ball carrier or you’re not going to last long in the league. Kuechly tackles well, wrapping up and grabbing on to whatever he can if he doesn’t have the right angle. There are instances in which he’ll go high on the ball carrier, and although at times he brings them down despite going around the shoulders, he should look to target the opposition lower, especially when one-on-one in space.
Agility is a characteristic that can likely be discussed in any of the previously mentioned categories, but I chose to put it separately in an effort to talk about the ability to mirror a pass catcher in coverage.
Linebackers with speed are always wanted by NFL teams, and in the process of acquiring one, sometimes teams will overlook the agility of the player which will end up costing them on Sundays. A linebacker must have lateral agility to make plays horizontally and mimic the movements of his assignment.
In my opinion, this is one of the areas which Kuechly’s game is very good as he’s able to break down by sinking his hips and mirroring the pass catcher in coverage.
Hip Flexibility & Change of Direction
Last but not least is the hip flexibility and change of direction (COD) of a pass defender. This is simply something that a defender must be able to do well. There have been linebackers in the past that have gotten by in coverage despite having stiff hips and/or ankles, such as Brandon Spikes, but they were very instinctive and had a great feel for the game.
Kuechly is also very instinctive, and he has good hip flexibility. He’s able to open his hips, change directions and run down field with a pass catcher.
In conclusion, Kuechly is one of the top prospects at his position, and in the entire draft class. He has a great work ethic to go along with rare instincts, good athleticism, and strength that will enable him to make an easy transition to the next level. I expect him to be a top fifteen draft choice in April and a quality player at the next level for many years.