For the past seven seasons, Luke Kuechly has been the best inside linebacker in the NFL.
At the heart of every good defense lies a solid inside linebacker. The best ones can pass-cover, defend the run and rush the passer. No player in pro football does all three better than Kuechly [KEEK-lee]. A six-time Pro Bowler, he remains the gold standard for NFL linebackers. Voted the best linebacker in the NFL by his peers, the humble Ohioan has more tackles than any other player in football since entering the league in 2012. Kuechly has totaled more than 100 tackles in each of his seven NFL seasons.
In just over 100 career games, Kuechly has recorded 71 tackles-for-loss and 16 interceptions. One of the hardest workers in the league, his 24 tackles against New Orleans in 2013 set a franchise record and left him just one shy of the NFL mark Brian Urlacher established in 2006 against Arizona. He’s been called the perfect linebacker in today’s NFL. A spread-it-and-throw-it-around league that puts a premium on speed and coverage from the defensive back seven, Kuechly’s ball skills and range make him the envy of the NFL’s 31 other teams.
Bespectacled, polite, clean cut and mild-mannered, Kuechly resembles Clark Kent – until he puts on his uniform. Then he becomes Superman.
In 2017, Carolina’s defense finished ninth in the league in fewest yards allowed per game. They were 21st the prior year, when Kuechly missed the last six games due to a concussion. That’s what a difference maker Number 59 is for the Panthers.
A vicious tackler, the 6’3”, 238-pound Kuechly roams from sideline to sideline with reckless abandon. After the Carolina Panthers made him the ninth overall pick of the 2012 NFL draft, Kuechly led the league in tackles in his first season, earning Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. In 2013, he became the youngest-ever recipient of the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Tough and dependable, Kuechly is the best hustle tackler [plays in which the defender travels 20 or more yards to make the stop] in football. He has tremendous instincts and flies all over the field. One of the best cover linebackers in NFL history, Kuechly runs extremely well. The former high school safety allowed a 73.5 passer rating when targeted in 2017 [more than 16 points below the NFL average among starting quarterbacks. Tom Brady and Drew Brees rated 102.8 and 103.9, respectively, in 2017].
“His preparation is off the charts,” says Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. “He’s one of those incredibly instinctive guys – he’s always around the ball.”
The All-Pro first team is comprised of the best player at each position in the NFL. The great Larry Fitzgerald, who has played 15 NFL seasons and is second all-time in receiving yards, received the honor once. Aaron Rodgers has been named twice in 14 campaigns. Luke Kuechly has been named First Team All-Pro in five of his seven NFL seasons, putting him in some pretty good company. Linebackers Dick Butkus, Chuck Howley and Derrick Brooks were also named First Team All-Pro five times before landing in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Luke August Kuechly Jr. celebrates his 28th birthday this Saturday. Born and raised in Cincinnati, he attended St. Xavier High School, a private Catholic institution in the Finneytown neighborhood. Alma mater of former U.S. Senator and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning, Xavier is the largest all-male Jesuit prep school in the country. In 2008, the Bombers’ athletic program was ranked 13th in the nation by Sports Illustrated. The rating was influenced in part by Kuechly, who helped the Bombers go 15-0 in his junior season en route to their second Ohio state title in three years.
St. Xavier was named 2007 mythical national champion and Kuechly earned a spot on the All Greater Catholic League team as both a junior and senior. Despite this success, Kuechly was underrecruited. Nearby Ohio State did not offer him a scholarship. Nor did Notre Dame or Michigan. Rated a three-star recruit, Kuechly was the 44thoutside linebacker prospect in the Class of 2009 [which was headed by Jelani Jenkins and Nico Johnson, both of whom are no longer in football]. After official visits to Virginia, Duke and Stanford, the cerebral playmaker committed to Boston College.
“When you meet Luke, you’re never going to guess that guy is a vicious linebacker.” – Steve Specht, who coached Kuechly at St. Xavier High School.
Luke Kuechly arrived in Chestnut Hill as a one-man wrecking crew. As a true freshman, he earned a starting job at outside linebacker and became the first freshman in B.C. history to lead the team in tackles. Kuechly also led the conference in tackles, garnering a spot on the All-ACC and CFN All-America teams. Prior to his sophomore year, Kuechly was moved to inside linebacker, then went on to break the single-season school record for tackles. He led both the ACC and NCAA in tackles, was named MVP of the Emerald Bowl for the second straight year, and earned unanimous first-team All-American honors.
As a junior, Captain America again led the nation in tackles. Over three seasons, Kuechly set Boston College and ACC career tackle records and finished 13 shy of the all-time NCAA mark. He finished his junior season having recorded ten or more tackles in 33 straight games. At the team banquet in December, Mr. Butkus personally presented Kuechly with the 2011 Butkus Award. He went on to win the Lombardi Award as well as the Lott and Bronko Nagurski trophies as the top defensive player in the nation.
With little left to prove at the college level, the greatest defender in Boston College history declared for the NFL draft following his junior season. The middle of three boys born into a hardworking Catholic family, Kuechly has taken his midwestern values to the NFL. A heat-seeking missile on the field, the gentleman linebacker combines speed, smarts and toughness, making him one of the biggest impact players in the league. Does Kuechly prefer making an interception or a big hit as a run-stopper? “I’ll take the pick, that’s a game changer.” said the seven-year veteran. “Get a guy for a two-yard loss, that affects a series. Get a pick and it’s a game-changer.”
The Butkus Award is given annually to the single best prep, college and NFL linebackers in America. Luke Kuechly is the only player to win it as both a collegian and pro.
Luke Kuechly was recognized as the 2012 ACC Athlete of the Year. In 2015, he was named to the FWAA 75thAnniversary All-America Team, where he joined the linebacking corps of Butkus, Thomas and Mike Singletary. In September 2016, the three-time NFL Butkus Award winner signed a five-year, $62 million contract extension, at the time the richest pact ever for an inside linebacker. The following month, Boston College retired Luke Kuechly’s number 40 jersey in a halftime ceremony at Alumni Stadium.
In 2017, the NFL players voted Luke Kuechly recipient of the Art Rooney Award. Named after the founding owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the award is presented annually to the NFL player who best demonstrates good sportsmanship, fair play, respect for opponents and integrity in competition on the playing field.