Von Miller, Aldon Smith and J.J. Watt all had remarkable seasons in 2012 and finished the year at the top of the Defensive Player of the Year voting, with Watt capturing the honor. So who will win the award this year? Miller is out of the running following his six-game suspension, leaving the door open for another player to join the conversation and potentially usurp Watt’s throne.
Enter Luke Kuechly, a player with all the tools necessary to dominate for the next decade.
While Watt and Kuechly will be judged differently because of the natural statistical differences of their respective positions, Watt’s primary statistic being sacks and Kuechly’s being total tackles, Kuechly is more than capable of winning 2013 Defensive Player of the Year.
He showed a glimpse of what he is capable of in the Carolina Panthers‘ third preseason game, garnering seven tackles, one forced fumble, one interception and two passes defended, showcasing the all-around game that makes him so unstoppable.
One quality that Kuechly has been consistently lauded for is his relentless study of the game. There are times when it seems that Kuechly knows the offense better than the offensive players, allowing him to be a step ahead of other defenders. His supreme knowledge of the game allows him to be decisive, shedding doubt and replacing it with play making ability.
Kuechly reminds me a lot of Brian Urlacher, primarily in coverage ability. Urlacher was, of course, the prototype Cover 2 middle linebacker, and while Carolina doesn’t run a whole lot of Cover 2, Kuechly still has the skills to be formidable in the middle. Kuechly’s coverage skills will be well tested in the pass-happy NFC South, especially with likes of Tony Gonzalez and Jimmy Graham lingering between the hashes.
Some player get the “sideline-to-sideline” moniker for making plays all over the field, but no one deserves that classification more than Kuechly. I’d call Kuechly a bench-to-bench player, a hyperbole that isn’t as implausible as you would think. He finds a way into almost every play, a quality that is evident in his absurd tackle totals.
The one question mark that Kuechly had leading up to the 2012 NFL draft, however, was that he made too many tackles downfield, more a product of poor defensive line play than Kuechly’s skill. With an improved defensive line, Kuechly should have more room to make plays in the backfield and keep the offense off-schedule.
Only time will tell if Kuechly can win the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year award, but there is no doubt that he has the potential. Whether or not that potential will be actualized, however, is totally up to him. Your move, Kuechly.