2012 NFL Draft: Why Luke Kuechly Is the Future of the NFL

Dan SnyderCorrespondent IMay 15, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 27: Linebacker Luke Kuechly of Boston College takes part in a drill during the 2012 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 27, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Gone are the days of running games dominating the NFL, and with that demands a new breed of inside linebackers leading defenses.

Never again will the NFL see a player like the (generous) 270 lb Levon Kirkland roaming the middle of defenses. Stopping the run isn't the top priority of defensive coordinators anymore, and because of this, pro football demands a new breed of linebacker.

Luke Kuechly is that breed.

As the Patriots showed us all in 2011, tight ends are a deadly weapon to be used in the passing game. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez led the Patriots to the Super Bowl and were virtually unguardable by opposing defenses.

With the ninth selection in the 2012 draft, the Panthers chose Boston College's all-time leading tackler in Kuechly and grabbed possibly the most complete defensive player in this year's draft.

In three years with the Eagles, Kuechly accumulated over 500 tackles, seven interceptions and 17 passes defended.

Kuechly also got some high praise from many of the top talent evaluators.

Per NFL Network's top draft analyst Mike Mayock, "I've had several general managers tell me he's the single cleanest player in the draft," Mayock said. "I think he's the best pure zone-drop pass linebacker I've ever seen on tape."

Considering Mayock has been doing this a long time, describing him as the best zone-drop linebacker he's ever seen is a pretty lofty statement. But his tape doesn't lie. 

Kuechly grades out considerably well and compares favorably to Bears' All-Pro linebacker Brian Urlacher, who was a safety in college. 

The pick bodes especially well for the Panthers, who play in a division that knows how to use those tight ends in the passing game. Tony Gonzalez, Jimmy Graham and Kellen Winslow Jr. are all elite pass catchers from the position and can do damage to opponents' secondaries. 

Kuechly neutralizes the NFL's new favorite weapon and adds a dimension to the pass coverage game that most inside linebackers didn't have to worry about in the past. 

Think about some of the great middle linebackers in this league's history. 

Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke, Jack Lambert, Mike Singletary, Ray Lewis. Not exactly known for their finesse and grace. 

Kuechly represents the new breed of NFL linebackers. These players must first and foremost be able to tackle and then cover. Playing the is something that can be done by two-down linebackers, but when you need a player to lead your team and make a play, that player can be Kuechly.