The Seahawks own the #12 overall selection in the upcoming NFL draft. Signing Matt Flynn, Red Bryant, Jason Jones, Marshawn Lynch, Breno Giacomini, and Paul McQuistan has left the team with the luxury of picking the best player that falls to them. This series will explore some possible selections, and how they could impact the team.
WHAT DOES HE BRING?
The only thing Kuechly would clearly bring to the Seahawks is a difficult to spell and pronounce last name (pronounced KEEK-ly). Outside of that, he is hard to project. There is a consensus that he is the best middle linebacker in the draft, and that he wowed everyone at the combine by carrying more weight, running in the 4.5s and popping a 38-inch vertical leap. His production at Boston College is undeniable, where he averaged 14 tackles per game. Boston College is not a football powerhouse, so it can be tough to project his performance there to his performance in the NFL. Middle linebackers are also tough to place an accurate value on due to their varying role in NFL defenses. Kuechly is a consensus Top 15 pick. Put it all together, and Kuechly may be the most difficult to predict of the players in this series.
Zach Thomas was a seven-time Pro Bowler and five-time 1st Team All Pro at middle linebacker. Patrick Willis is five-time Pro Bowler and four-time 1st Team All Pro at inside linebacker. You may have heard of Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, and Mike Singletary as well. Elite middle linebackers are rare, but when your team finds one, it can transform an entire defense. Kuechly is already drawing comparisons to Thomas, who was good for 150 tackles almost every season. He was an incredibly instinctive linebacker who excelled despite being undersized by NFL standards. Adding a player like that to the Seahawks defense would cement K.J. Wright at the SAM position. It would also add another reason why it would be tough to run against the Seahawks. The mammoth defensive line already discourages runs up-the-middle, but a great middle linebacker would plug the gaps and chase down any running back who chooses to cut East-West. Kuechly is not the guy to run down an elite pass-catching tight end in the NFL, so he might only be a two-down linebacker in some situations. A great middle linebacker is not going to add much to the pass rush, except for putting teams in 3rd and long more often. That said, nobody would regret having an All-Pro controlling the middle of the Seahawks defense for the next decade.
Kuechly could just be a decent starting linebacker. David Hawthorne was a pretty darn good starting MIKE last season despite playing with a bum knee. Hawthorne has made impact plays throughout his career, forcing fumbles, intercepting passes, even sacking the quarterback on occasion. Will Kuechly be that much of an upgrade? To put it another way, Kuechly would need to be a Zach Thomas-level NFL player in order to truly upgrade the position. Wright is already on the roster, and projects to be a darn good MIKE if the team decides to add a SAM that forces him to slide over. Wright played the first game of the year at MIKE, and did a nice job. He is cerebral, extraordinarily lanky, and a great open-field tackler. He very well may be a better coverage linebacker than Kuechly, which would allow him to be a three-down linebacker. Finding a great outside linebacker that pushes Wright over also would mean a greater impact to the pass rush, as middle linebackers just don’t get that involved with pressuring the passer. If Kuechly is the equivalent of adding a Patrick Willis or Brian Urlacher to the Seahawks defense, nobody will complain. Much less than that would mean the Seahawks used an incredibly valuable draft choice on a position they could have addressed in a myriad of other ways with roughly the same output. High stakes.