Rookie Linebackers with Best Chance to Lead the NFL in Tackles in 2013
It happened last year with Luke Kuechly of the Carolina Panthers.
A rookie linebacker led the NFL in tackles.
The No. 9 overall pick in the 2012 draft had 164 total tackles last year, which was 16 more than Chad Greenway of the Minnesota Vikings and All-Pro NaVorro Bowman of the San Francisco 49ers.
Now, accumulating a bunch of tackles doesn't automatically equate to prolific linebacker play.
However, Kuechly's 164-tackle campaign did earn him Rookie of the Year honors, although some would argue the voting process puts too much weight on elementary statistics.
With an abundance of traditional inside linebackers chosen in Rounds 2-4 of the 2013 draft, let's identify the most likely candidates to potentially lead the league in tackles in their debut professional campaigns.
Manti Te'o was a tackling-sensation during his career at Notre Dame. He averaged nearly 125 tackles per year during his final three seasons in South Bend. At 6'1'' and 241 pounds with quick recognition skills and sound tackling fundamentals, he has the tools to play as a downhill run-defending thumper in San Diego.
Although he's not the rangiest linebacker in the class and doesn't have prolific straight-line speed, the former Fighting Irish star is well-versed and rather comfortable in coverage.
The Chargers run a 3-4 alignment, so Te'o is penciled in as the other inside linebacker next to the underrated Donald Butler.
Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes have promising futures on the defensive line, and their presence should be beneficial to the second-round pick.
Te'o should be given more freedom to wrap up tacklers with Butler shouldering more responsibility as a block-eater, which should also help bolster the rookie's tackling total.
Add in what should be a decent amount of tackles down the field on passing plays, and it's easy to project well over 100 tackles for Te'o in 2013.
Kiko Alonso was the Buffalo Bills' second of two Round 2 picks.
He had 81 tackles as a senior in Eugene and possesses the size at 6'3'' and 240 pounds to be an assailing run defender but has quick feet and good awareness as a cover man.
With inside linebacker Kelvin Sheppard being traded to the Indianapolis Colts for edge-rusher Jerry Hughes, the former Oregon Duck will be relied on as a rookie.
Alonso will likely start inside play next to second-year pro Nigel Bradham in the 3-4 sets of Mike Pettine's hybrid defense and should man the middle linebacker spot in 4-3 looks.
With Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Alan Branch, Alex Carrington and Mario Williams in front of him, the rookie linebacker should be in a position to rack up plenty of tackles.
Kevin Minter is only 6'0'', but he weighs a shade more than 240 pounds and flashed major tackling-machine promise during his career at LSU, especially in 2012.
He finished his senior season with the Tigers with 130 tackles, 15 of which came for a loss.
With Pro Bowl inside linebacker Daryl Washington suspended the first four games of the upcoming season for violating the league's substance abuse policy and the fact that he may face an additional suspension following a domestic assault charge, barring an unforeseen development, Minter will be the club's Week 1 starter.
He'll man the inside linebacker spot next to free-agent acquisition Jasper Brinkley in Arizona's 3-4 and will likely find himself around the ball frequently in 2013.
Also, playing behind the likes of Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett—two legitimate line-of-scrimmage-disruptors—will help Minter's tackling total.
However, Karlos Dansby could take some tackles away.
Which rookie LB has the best chance to lead the NFL in tackles in 2013?
Arthur Brown is a rangy and powerful middle linebacker who plays fast and is a sound tackler. Some were concerned with his lack of size, but he was 6'0'' and 241 pounds at the combine in February.
The Kansas State star is as fluid in coverage as he is aggressive when attacking the line of scrimmage, and he exhibited a special knack to sift through traffic to find the ball-carrier in college.
Filling the void left by the legendary Ray Lewis won't be easy, but Brown won't disappoint as a rookie.
Jameel McClain is a capable linebacker mate, and Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs and Chris Canty should have their way with most offensive lines.
Brown had 101 tackles in 2011 and 100 as a senior, and he should exceed that total in 2013 in Baltimore.
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