Tomlin compares Panthers' LB to J.J. Watt

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin offered high praise for a pair of Carolina Panthers players, including linebacker Luke Kuechly, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

“I think he is legitimately in the argument of a J.J. Watt in terms of some of the most exciting young football players in our game,” Tomlin said. “Luke Kuechly is quite simply one of the best in the business.”

That lofty assessment is not merely a case of Tomlin laying it on thick when talking about an upcoming opponent.

Kuechly is the first player since a guy named Lawrence Taylor to win the Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year and the AP Defensive Player of the Year in consecutive seasons.

The 6-3, 238-pounder piled up 156 tackles while intercepting four passes last season in helping the Panthers in the NFC South. Kuechly is tied for third in the NFL with 20 tackles through two games and the 2012 first-round draft pick also has a sack.

“There’s nothing that he can’t do,” Tomlin said of the Panthers’ 23-year-old middle linebacker. “He is good at blitzing. He is a sideline-to-sideline tackler. He has innate instincts. He can slip blocks. He can defeat blocks physically. He is great in the passing game.”

The Panthers used their most recent first-round pick to address their passing game on the other side of the ball.

And Kelvin Benjamin, a big and rangy wide receiver, has already provided some early returns for Carolina.

The former Florida State star has caught eight passes, including one for a touchdown, in two games, and is averaging 17.3 yards per reception.

The Steelers took a long look at the 6-5, 240-pound Benjamin prior to the draft last May and Tomlin and Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert each attended Florida State's Pro Day.

“There are big wideouts and there are really big wideouts,” Tomlin said of Benjamin, the 28th overall pick of the 2014 draft. “This guy is really big. He is going to have a 50 pound or so advantage on just about every defensive back he comes across. He has good body control. He has good, strong hands. He attacks the ball. [Carolina quarterback] Cam [Newton] does an awesome job of locating balls and putting balls in locations that only Benjamin can make the plays. He is an impressive young man.”