Once the Boston College football season ended, NFL scouting departments wanted to figure out exactly how good linebacker Luke Kuechly was.
Everyone had seen the eye-popping résumé. There were the 532 tackles in his career. He led college football in tackles each of the past two seasons. He was a two-time All-American. Kuechly won the Butkus (linebacker), Lombardi (lineman or linebacker), and Nagurski (defensive player) awards his final season.
But how much of it was just Kuechly cleaning up on a down Eagles team?
Not much, apparently.
“A guy like Luke Kuechly is probably going to be a very high pick,’’ said Taunton native Eric DeCosta, the Ravens’ director of player personnel.
After combine, pro day, and individual workouts, Kuechly only enhanced his standing among NFL teams and draft analysts.
He could go in the top 10, and he won’t slip past 20.
“He’s one of the 10 best players in this draft,’’ said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, a BC grad. “The intriguing thing about Luke is that, historically, inside linebackers are not valued, mostly because they get replaced on sub downs in sub packages and nickel packages. He’s the opposite and his strength lies in the pass game.’’
After watching Kuechly’s performance at the BC pro day last month, one AFC scouting executive said that he didn’t think he had seen a better workout.
“The ability he showed in coverage, the way he moves and can flip his hips . . . you don’t see it that much at that position,’’ he said. “It was an outstanding workout. He’ll be playing in this league - at a high level - for 10 years. I don’t think you can miss on him, I really don’t.’’
That ability to play in coverage is what separates Kuechly (6 feet 3 inches, 242 pounds) from other inside linebackers.
“He’s the best pass-dropping inside linebacker I’ve ever seen in college football,’’ Mayock said. “He has instincts and speed. So on the third down, when the sub package comes in the game, he’s going to stay in the game a lot like a Sean Lee in Dallas.
“I think there’s real value there because he’s a three-down inside linebacker. He’ll occasionally get enveloped by a big body, but the NFL is a pass-first league, and there’s value in Luke Kuechly.’’
Pass coverage is something Kuechly has been working on at the IMG Academy in Florida.
“I haven’t done a whole lot of man coverage, so I can’t tell people I’m off the charts with it,’’ he said. “I think it’s a lot of technique work and something I’ve just got to pick up on the fly.’’
Kuechly took pre-draft visits to the Panthers, Bills, Bengals, and Titans. Those aren’t an indicator of interest. Especially with juniors such as Kuechly, teams have incomplete information and need to fill that out on a prospect, especially medically.
Sitting down with a team only would endear Kuechly to a general manager. One from the NFC said Kuechly came off so well “you want him to marry your daughter.’’
While Kuechly seems a natural at 4-3 middle linebacker, teams believe the Cincinnati native could fill any role.
“He could play all three [linebacker positions] for us,’’ said Bills general manager Buddy Nix.
Among the teams picking highly in the draft, the Buccaneers (fifth), Bills (10th), Chiefs (11th), Seahawks (12th), Cardinals (13th), Eagles (15th), and Bengals (17th) all could use Kuechly’s ability and he fits their schemes.
Whenever his name is called, don’t expect to see Kuechly at Radio City Music Hall shaking hands with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
Kuechly turned down a request to attend the draft, and instead will be watching from his parents’ house in Cincinnati.
And the next phase will begin.
“It’s going to be a challenge,’’ Kuechly said. “Kind of at the bottom again, like my freshman year. It’s one of those things where you just kind of have to take in everything. You have to work your way back up. I just try to go out there and have fun and just get to the ball. That’s kind of my goal: just get to the ball and make something happen.’’
It has worked so far.Greg A. Bedard can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard.