Luke Kuechly, LB #59
Hometown: Cincinnati, OH
College: Boston College
What happens when you win the Bronko Nagurski Award, the Butkus Award and the Rotary Lombardi Award and finish a three-year career at Boston College with the second most tackles in NCAA history?
The Carolina Panthers answered that question when they took Luke Kuechly (pronounced KEEK-ly) in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft and immediately inserted him as their starter at weakside linebacker when the season opened in Tampa.
Kuechly was just the third defensive player taken behind cornerback Morris Claiborne by the Cowboys and safety Mark Barron by the Buccaneers at No. 6 and No. 7, respectively. When the Panthers turn came up at No. 9, they gobbled up Kuechly because they expect him to gobble up opponents the same way he did in college and hopefully help Carolina reach the postseason for the first time since 2008.
Carolina plucked a franchise quarterback with their number one pick last year in Cam Newton and despite having needs at other positions, they may have landed a franchise linebacker this time around. The defense needed a bit of a makeover and who better to start with than a man who led the Atlantic Coast Conference three straight years in tackles and racked up a career total of 532 and in his senior year, including an amazing dozen tackles for a loss.
The 21-year-old has a résumé that also includes the ACC Male Athlete of the Year, and he became the 19th Boston College player taken in the first round of the draft. Tackle Mike Holovak was the first in 1943.
With Boston College, Kuechly averaged a NCAA record 14 tackles per game. Showing he could easily make the transition to the professional level, he played in only three of Panthers’ four preseason games and was still second in tackles with 17. He was graded out at 91 by the NFL Draft Tracker, meaning he was considered an immediate starter––an impact player with the ability/intangibles to become a Pro Bowl player.
Kuechly is considered to be a technically sound, yet aggressive player with an exceptional feel for where the ball is. Carolina head coach Ron Rivera has the rookie lining up next to sixth-year veteran Jon Beason, who missed the entire preseason nursing a hamstring and all but one game in 2011 because of a torn Achilles tendon, and James Anderson, two solid linebackers. Behind Kuechly is Thomas Davis, who is healthy, and combined the foursome had 19 solo tackles against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1 of 2012. Kuechly had a pair of solos and two assists in his NFL debut.
The Cincinnati native will play his second regular season contest this Sunday when the Panthers host the New Orleans Saints. As one of nine rookies to make the team, Kuechly and left guard Amini Silatolu are the only starters.
Off the field Kuechly goes to a trout club when he is home, and he claims the biggest fish he caught was a 25-pound king salmon.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.