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Why Luke Kuechly won’t fall far in the NFL draft

02.26.12 at 9:03 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — Boston College inside linebacker Luke Kuechly was asked 20 questions by reporters Sunday, not counting how to pronounce his name and how tall he was.

Luke Kuechly won the Butkus Award as a junior. (AP)

Four of those questions were about Philadelphia, and how it seemed he was destined to be selected by the Eagles in the first round of April’s draft. The Eagles could use help at inside linebacker, they’re picking 15th overall and Kuechly is one of the best defensive prospects. To those asking the questions, it makes sense.

Yet the idea that the BC star is headed to Philadelphia at No. 15 might suggest that people have got Kuechly all wrong. It suggests they’ve got elite inside linebackers all wrong.

Players expected to go at the top of the draft fall every year — even star quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers plummeting to the 24th pick in 2005 is probably the best example). Yet in recent years, it seems that the one player guaranteed to not slip is a star inside linebacker.

And that, from all indications, is what Kuechly is. An incredibly instinctive player who’s far more athletic than he’s given credit for, Kuechly has been compared to former Dolphins great Zach Thomas. If teams like him for what he is, he won’t fall.

Take a look at the recent years in which there’s been a star inside linebacker among the best players in the draft. There was Miami’s Jonathan Vilma in 2004, who didn’t get past the Jets at 12th overall. In 2007, Patrick Willis was held in a similarly high regard as Kuechly, and he went 11th overall. Since then, he’s been the best inside linebacker in the league. Jerod Mayo went 10th overall to the Patriots in 2008. The Raiders are known for being a little crazy with their first-round picks, but when they saw Rolando McClain as a top talent in the middle, they didn’t let him get past the eighth overall pick.

Sure, Derrick Johnson went 15th overall in 2005, but that was as an outside linebacker before the Chiefs eventually moved him inside in the 3-4. And DeMeco Ryans wasn’t considered an elite, sure-fire first-round middle linebacker in 2006, but after he went with the first pick of the second round, he proved that he should have received better consideration.

The moral of the story: If you’re an elite inside linebacker, you’ll go right around that Top 10 area. This year, a likely suitor for Kuechly is the Chiefs who pick at 11th overall. They could grab Kuechly and stick him next to Johnson. Or maybe another team will move up to secure his services, but based on recent history, one shouldn’t expect him to be available when the Eagles pick at No. 15.

“I try not to look at that stuff,” Kuechly said of the mock drafts. “I’ve heard it from different people, friends and family and other people who have been looking at that stuff, but for me, the primary concern for me right now is doing well here and taking care of business here before I can even look at that stuff.”

As for Kuechly’s resume as one of those top-tier inside linebackers, everything is there. He won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker, joining the likes of outside backer Von Miller (2011), McClain (2009) and Willis (2006), among others. Analysts rave about his football smarts, but his instincts by no means are supplement for any lack of athleticism. He also came into Indianapolis with better size than he played in at BC — Kuechly measured in at 6-foot-3 and 242 pounds after playing at 235 last season as a junior.

Kuechly has everything to make him a blue-chip inside linebacker prospect. History shows that position to be one that doesn’t generally fall in the draft, so don’t expect his wait to be long come April 26.

Read More: 2012 combine, 2012 NFL Draft, Jerod Mayo, Luke Kuechly
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