One area that Dallas Cowboys fans debate every offseason is the inside linebacker position. It has become one of the most frustrating positions to analyze and breakdown because of the amount of draft picks the team has dedicated on the position. I won't bore you with the history, we all know it very well. The thought of drafting another linebacker high in the draft isn't exactly the preferred draft strategy for the Cowboys fan base.
The next Sean Lee "starter kit" could be found in the form of Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly. The two are very similar linebackers. When watching Kuechly play, it's hard not to think of Lee. The comparison is starting to catch fire after he put in one of the best overall performances in the recent combine. I was anxious to see him workout, but I didn't expect to see him perform at such a high level.
If Jerry Jones actually stands behind anything he has said this offseason, it would make sense for the Cowboys to be interested in the best inside linebacker of the 2012 NFL Draft. Jerry and his son Stephen, have been pushing the "take the best available player" approach in the draft. Would they really stick to their guns and draft yet another inside linebacker?
If they are truly dedicated to the BPA strategy, be prepared for the possibility of Luke Kuechly being the 14th overall pick this April.
Take the jump for more Kuechly...
He left Boston College as one of their most decorated players in the history of the school. Kuechly was arguably the most productive linebacker in college football during his three years as a starter for the BC defense. He had big shoes to fill at outside linebacker when superstar Mark Herzlich had to sit out the year after developing cancer. Herzlich was a walking legend there, so it wasn't going to be easy for Kuechly stepping into his shoes.
Being thrown into the fire was no problem for the freshman. His statistics for the season were out of this world, 158 tackles (2nd in the nation), 13 tackles for loss, 1 sack and 1 interception. He earned national acclaim with ACC Defensive Player of the Year, All-ACC First Team, Freshman All-American and Sports Illustrated second team All-American honors.
After having so much success in his first season, there is always the concern of the "sophomore slump." The jinx never happened and he continued to be one of the best football players in the nation. He made a position change with Herlzich coming back to play outside linebacker, so Kuechly moved to the inside. In his sophomore season, he racked up 183 tackles (1st in the nation), 10 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and 3 interceptions. The consensus All-American was a machine in the middle of the defense, and he also began to step up as a vocal leader.
Kuechly led the nation again in tackles with a staggering 191 tackles. He averaged 15.9 tackles per game, which became a new record. 2011 was another storybook year for Kuechly, winning the Dick Butkus, Lombardi and Bronco Nagurski awards. The decision to enter the NFL Draft or go back for his senior season must have been a difficult decision for him to make, but he made the right choice. Going back to school for another year would have been a mistake. He has broken records, won just about every award a college linebacker can win and there was no need to risk an injury that could derail his dream of playing in the NFL.
|Luke Kuechly Combine Results|
|4.58 40 yard dash|
|27 bench reps of 225 pounds|
|38 inch vertical jump|
|123 inch broad jump|
|6.92 3 cone drill|
|4.12 20 yard shuttle|
|11.43 60 yard shuttle|
Many draft services have described him as not being a superior athlete. His combine performance makes those claims look foolish, because he is a great athlete. He timed faster than many thought he would, and he looked fluid in the hips during the individual drills. His quickness and explosion are very good for a inside linebacker. He is a sound tackler with sideline to sideline ability. One area that I think he will have success in the NFL is dropping back into coverage. His seven interceptions in three seasons showed that he has ball skills.
If what you are reading sounds familiar, it's because we have a similar player on our team already. NFL.com draft guru Mike Mayock compares him to Sean Lee, and I have to agree with him. Kuechly was never injured in college, so he doesn't present the injury risks that Lee did.
Related: "Cowboys' Sean Lee Is A Pro Bowler" And Other Things We Learned In Mike Mayocks Conference Call
The two are so similar that it's scary. Kuechly's instincts are some of the best in the entire draft, and ESPN's Scouts Inc agrees.
Luke Kuechly is the complete package and is one of the safest picks in the entire draft. I like him as a top fifteen pick because you know what you are going to get with him. You can instantly plug him into the starting lineup and expect solid production for him. He is going to be all over the field, making plays. His character is the RKG makeup and his leadership qualities are perfect for the middle of your defense.
- 6-3, 242 pounds
- Machine-like production on the football field
- Underrated athlete
- Smooth technician who is fundamentally sound
- Sideline to sideline linebacker
- Excellent instincts
- Leader in the making
How He Relates To The Cowboys In The Draft
If the team is serious about not being handcuffed to need and sticks to the BPA approach, this should be the pick then. It might create a logjam at the inside linebacker position, but one thing that has been clear over the years in this 3-4 defense is the need for quality linebackers. You can never have enough guys who can cover, tackle and lead the defense.
When I first began contemplating the idea of drafting him back in January, my head began to spin. After really breaking it down and looking over the schematics, it does make sense. We would be getting one of the best football players in the draft. At the end of the day, isn't that what it's all about? Building your roster with the best football players you can acquire? I am finally warming up to the idea of drafting another inside linebacker, when a few months ago I absolutely hated the idea. It's funny how things change when you think rationally.