10 April 2012
Something that has come up recently in the news is that the Panthers are showing interest in drafting Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly. He has reportedly visited with the team and the coaching staff seems to like what he brings to the table. Keuchly is a terrific player and would be a nice addition to just about any team drafting him, but there haven't been a lot of Panthers fans that are on board with taking him.
Why is that? For one, he is a linebacker and will probably be taken in the first round given his impressive college stats and work at the combine. The general consensus is that the Panthers are set at linebacker and don't need to add another one, especially in the first round, when they have bigger needs to address. If they are going to run the 4-3 again, the linebacking corps is set with Jon Beason in the middle, James Anderson in the SAM spot and Thomas Davis at WILL linebacker.
Carolina would be strengthening their defense by drafting Keuchly but they would be just adding to a position of wealth while their defensive line and secondary will be relatively weak. However, there are some logical reasons for the Panthers drafting Keuchly, the main one being that he could be the best player available at #9 in the draft.
We will talk about this more after the jump
First, let's get to know Keuchly a little bit. He is regarded as one of the smartest players in this draft class as he spends hours studying the game to become a better player. He led Boston College and the ACC in tackles over the last two seasons with 374 and has shown the ability to defend the run and the pass effectively. Keuchly has shown great tackling ability and usually is not overpowered by blockers easily. Most scouts project him to be a solid linebacker who can play just about inside position and contribute immediately in his rookie season.
On just about every play, he will make a bee-line straight for whoever has the football and do everything in his power to take him down. Most of the time he is successful as his tackle stats in college are pretty ridiculous. He even had a couple 20+ tackle performances last season, one of which coming against Florida State. Basically, he is a multi-skilled linebacker who can be useful in both the 3-4 and the 4-3 scheme and he has produced on a consistent basis in college despite playing on a pretty poor team last season. Because of this, he is known as one of the few "safe" picks in this draft.
It is easy to see why Carolina scouts seem to like him because he could definitely be of some use to this team, especially if we are going to move to the 3-4. Also, the health of Thomas Davis is never a sure thing and if he were to go down, then Keuchly could be able to step in his place because he played a role similar to Davis' in college.
Of course, the issue here is that if Davis remains healthy then the Panthers essentially spent a top-10 pick on a player who will be a back-up his rookie season. With the Panthers gunning for the division next year, they can't afford to do that and need to address some immediate needs this draft. You could argue that linebacker is somewhat of a need because of Davis' health and Sean McDermott possibly switching to the 3-4, but we don't know if any of that is for sure yet.
The one argument I agree with in selecting Keuchly is that he could be the best defensive player available in this draft when the Panthers are on the clock. In my mind, the perfect pick for Carolina would be LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, but it seems like a miracle that he will drop to #9, so the Panthers need to address other needs. No one seems to know if any of the defensive linemen who will be available will be top-10 material, so Carolina might have to go with the best player on the board. That player could be Keuchly but we will see in a few weeks on Draft Day.
Should the Panthers take the "best player available" in Keuchly, he would not be a bad fit for this defense. Personally, I think a switch to the 3-4 is coming and having Keuchly as another inside linebacker along with Beason would be a nice set-up. That is if Keuchly is everything he is made out to be, but the game film I watched seems promising. He was far and away the best player on BC's defense in both the Maryland and Clemson games I watched and he really seems to know what he's doing both in run defense and pass coverage.
Keuchly would not be my first choice for the Panthers to take at #9 but I certainly would not be against having him on the team next year. I just don't know if having a strong linebacking corps is worth making the rest of the defense suffer. Although, it's not like the Panthers can not address their needs in later rounds. They just need to make those picks count even more if they do go LB in the first round.