Today's question for our panel: Which NFL team do you think will select Luke Kuechly during the April draft?
Nick: As Mike and Ralph get into below, some of Kuechly's most important skills are non-quantifiable, so Kuechly will likely be drafted by a team that he really impresses in private workouts and in interviews. Lots of mock drafts currently have Luke going to the Eagles at pick 15, but I could see him going anywhere between 10 and 20 depending on which teams are most impressed with his "intangibles." Having watched Kuechly for his whole BC career, however, I feel very confident that Luke will be, at worst, a solid NFL player for whoever drafts him, so from my perspective there's not much downside for teams thinking about taking him.
Mike: My best guess is the Eagles at 15. I could potentially see him going as high as 11 or 12 with the Seahawks, but LK doesn't necessarily have the size or the upside that you might like to see from an athlete being drafted at that position. I don't expect LK to help his stock athletically at the combine, although he will certainly ace the interviews and the Wonderlic test. His best attributes are his football IQ and his uncanny ability to find the ball, both things that are difficult to see in non-game situations. I wouldn't be surprised if LK's stock was "falling" by April.
Mike C: Luke has an upside of going fringe top-10 but he's pretty unlikely to reach that. Somewhere around 15 sounds about right. He has an uncanny ability to avoid linemen in traffic - it will be interesting to see how this holds up in the NFL where pulling OL are considerably better at identifying the free LB - but hes the best I've ever seen at it during college. Despite the hate on his athleticism, he's really not particularly unathletic - he wont throw up a mayo/willis 4.5 40, but he should be able to put up a solid 4.7-4.75 - a far cry from a Brandon Spikes type who truly lacks true upper level athleticism. Also look for him to put up a good performance in the agility drills. While Luke doesn't really have All-Pro potential at LB, there are plenty of guys like Luke who end up with a few Pro Bowls in their career. Unless something bizarre happens, he's a lock to be a top-20 pick.
Ralph: Thanks Mike for stealing most of my argument. Seriously though, you hit the nail on the head - Luke's abilities aren't easily shown in the standard measures the NFL uses to evaluate LB's, such as size and 40 speed. GMs/Coaches place too strong an emphasis on these numbers (I'm looking at you Al Davis RIP) and have a tendency to undervalue guys who simply know how to play the game. He will not measure well at the combine and could in fact hurt his stock with any real sub-par performance. I'm hoping some GM or coach can look past his straight stats as they will see a football player who simply has a knack for the ball.
Take for example, Ed Reed - he is constantly heralded as having uncanny instincts to be in the right place at the right time and to make plays. Sure, he does have impressive measurables but his instincts are going to lead him into the HoF one day. I am by no means saying Luke will have a HoF career (his ability to succeed in the NFL will be another post) but I think some team will recognize his abilities and take him top 10. He is far and away the best LB prospect in the draft and with an increased emphasis on TEs in the league, LBs will become even more valuable. I say the Bills take him at 10 to shore up that D of theirs.