[Note by JasonB, 03/07/12 2:49 PM EST ] Avant Garde pumps the brakes on the Kuechly train...
Let me start by saying that I have nothing against Luke Kuechly. He does almost everything you'd expect from a MLB, and he does it well. Great tackler, good instincts, sideline to sideline player. He even proved his doubters (admittedly myself included) wrong about his size and strength, weighing in at the combine at 242 lbs and pacing the MLBs at the combine with 27 reps. He is virtually without a doubt ready to start at MLB in the NFL next season.
But that's the problem. He might be too good, while the rest of the class has fallen far behind.
Will Kuechly still be there at 15? It's tough to tell. The Seahawks have the 12th pick, and are expected to move on from last season's starting MLB David Hawthorne, with the intention of becoming a faster defense. Keuchly ran the second fastest 40 in the draft amongst MLBs at 4.58 seconds, so he'd certainly fit into their plans. The next pick belongs to the only team I can think of with a worse LB corps than the Eagles - the Arizona Cardinals. They do have an even bigger need at OT, but if they address that through free agency or the guys they like are off the board at 13, Keuchly would probably be their next pick. And of course, there's always the possibility of a team behind us trading up for him. This ties into my next point - that after Keuchly, there's very little talent at MLB in this draft.
At the start of the season, this looked like a great class of middle linebackers. Kuechly, Vontaze Burfict, and Manti Te'o were all tentatively considered first round prospects. Since then, Manti has elected to stay in college, while Vontaze has proven every one of his doubters' criticisms to be accurate. So who's left?
Dont'a Hightower is a 3-4 ILB, so no dice there.
Mychal Kendricks looks intriguing on the surface. He's climbing up draft boards following a combine where he placed first in the 40 and third in the bench press amongst MLBs. It makes you wonder why he was considered a day 3 pick before the combine, doesn't it? Looking closer, Kendricks is not without some significant warts. Dane Brugler of CBSSports had this to say about him:
Slips off too many ballcarriers and needs to complete tackles -- will go for the big hit too often instead of consistently wrapping up... Has some minor character concerns after he was suspended for parts of two different games for separate violations of team rules.
Sound familiar to anyone? It should also be mentioned that last year was his first year at MLB, so he's obviously still learning the position. He could certainly end up being a very capable starter, but I seriously doubt he's ready to be a day 1 starter in the NFL.
Audie Cole is another name that's been tossed around a lot. He certainly has the physical tools to be a MLB at the NFL level, but he needs some seasoning. He's not a particularly sure tackler either. Again, not a day 1 starter in the NFL.
Clearly there's a pretty steep drop off after Keuchly. If the Eagles gamble on Keuchly as their starting MLB and miss, they're going to be in serious trouble next season. Personally, I don't think the Eagles, and Andy Reid in particular, can afford to take that risk. Going into another season with a question mark at MLB could (and probably should) cost Reid his job. I think the Eagles need to bite the bullet and invest in a free agent like Lofton, Tulloch, Hawthorne, or Fletcher to ensure that they've filled the gaping hole at MLB for next season.
Thanks for reading.