Luke Kuechly is a flat out beast. It’s not like we didn’t already know this, but Kuechly gave us a sharp reminder on Sunday against the Falcons. While his numbers don’t jump out as a superstar performance (eight tackles, one interception), he was clearly the Carolina Panthers‘ defensive MVP. He had a couple of teeth-jarring hits while defending the pass, not to mention his critical interception in the first quarter, but he continued to make plays in the running game as if he knew the play call. His biggest contribution was his coverage of Tony Gonzalez, who he blanketed during the times he was covering him (while Chase Blackburnstruggled to do the same), other than the lone touchdown.
What really makes Kuechly special is his all-around ability. A lot of players develop one skill to an NFL level and ride that skill into the league as their specialty, ending up as role players who develop their other strengths over time. We already knew that Kuechly was a superb run defender due to his absurd tackle totals in college, but draft experts still questioned whether Kuechly could be physical at the point of attack and cover at an NFL level. Kuechly has since dispelled those doubts by repeatedly blowing up running plays and covering like a blanket, posting 228 tackles and five interceptions in only 24 games played.
Kuechly reminds me a lot of Brian Urlacher when he manned the middle in Chicago’s infamous Cover 2 of the mid-2000′s. Urlacher was a great run defender, but it was his pass defense that made him a truly revolutionary linebacker. Urlacher’s ability to lock down the middle of the field allowed Chicago’s secondary to focus on their respective areas and take chances as well, and those chances led not only to turnovers, but also a Super Bowl run. Kuechly has all the tools that Urlacher has, but the difference in eras may allow Kuechly to even be better than Urlacher. Urlacher didn’t have to face the complex offensive schemes that have evolved out of the spread offense until late in his career, not to mention the slew of athletic tight ends that have taken the NFL by storm. It’s too early to call Kuechly a Hall of Famer, but he’s certainly on the right track.
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