BRADENTON, Fla. — Look at any mock draft or any list of player rankings and you’ll find Boston College’s Luke Kuechly ranked near the top of the linebackers.
On Monday, he might be able to put himself alone at the very top of every team's linebacker list. When the linebackers work out for NFL scouts and coaches, Kuechly will be out to disprove the only two knocks against him.
Too small and too slow are the common criticisms of Kuechly. He was listed at 6-foot-3 and 237 pounds in college, but NFL types would like to see his weight north of 240. There’s also a suspicion that Kuechly won’t wow the audience with his time in the 40-yard dash.
But those scouts and coaches haven’t seen Kuechly since the final game of his college career. They might be in for a surprise because there have been some major changes.
Kuechly, who could not play in any of the college all-star games because he left school after his junior season, has been working on bulking up and getting faster at IMG Football Academy.
“Let me tell you something, he’s plenty big enough,’’ said former NFL quarterback Chris Weinke, who directs IMG’s football operations. “He plays with great instincts. What I’ve seen from Luke is a consistent approach every single day. This is a guy that’s honed in on what he can do to get better. In terms of his physical skills since he’s been here, he’s bigger and stronger. He’s faster. I can tell you this, there are going to be people excited at the combine when he runs. He’s more fluid when he runs.’’
Kuechly has been working with IMG director of speed and movement Loren Seagrave, a former speed coach for the Atlanta Falcons who also has worked with multiple Olympians. Kuechly’s not about to predict his 40 time, but he said he has gotten faster in recent weeks.
“A lot of the stuff we do is called explosive movements,’’ Kuechly said. “We talk about having our feet under our body. If your feet are outside your body, you can’t move as well. You’re going to slip and you’re going to have your feet fall out from underneath you. What they teach us here is having your feet underneath you makes you take direct steps. That stuff translates into quickness.
“The first week, it didn’t make sense because it’s something new and something I hadn’t heard before, but as the weeks progressed, I was like 'Wow, this actually is working for me.'’’
If Kuechly can show good speed and size at the combine, his stock could rise and that could put him on the radar of some NFC South teams. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who pick No. 5, and the Carolina Panthers, who will pick either No. 8 or No. 9 (depending on a Friday coin flip), have needs at linebacker. So do the Falcons and New Orleans Saints, who are without first-round picks at the moment.
Tampa Bay could use help at any of the linebacker positions, while Carolina should be set in the middle with the return of a healthy Jon Beason, but could be looking for an outside linebacker to pair with James Anderson. The Falcons could lose middle linebacker Curtis Lofton in free agency. The Saints need help on the outside, but also could be looking for a successor to middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who had knee problems last season.
Kuechly currently is projected by most draft gurus to go about midway through the first round. The Saints and Falcons are without first-round picks. It might be a stretch to project Kuechly as a top-10 pick right now, but a good workout at the combine could change that.
Kuechly played outside linebacker in his first college season before moving to the middle.
“Anywhere I can play is fine with me,’’ Kuechly said.
While the size and the speed remain questions, at least until Monday, Kuechly’s production has never been in doubt. In his three-year career, Kuechly finished with 532 tackles. Since the NCAA began counting tackles as an official statistic in 2000, only one player has had more tackles than Kuechly. That was Northwestern’s Tim McGarigle, who had 534 tackles in a four-year career.
Boston College coach Frank Spaziani frequently called Kuechly “the Human Eraser’’ for his tackling ability.
“Luke’s going to show the physical skills they’re looking for at the combine,’’ Weinke said. “Add all that onto what he was able to accomplish in college. The guy made a bunch of tackles and it’s not like people are running the ball 60 times a game in the ACC. They’re throwing the ball and he’s still making tackles. He’s got the warrior mentality. Whoever gets him is getting a big-time player.’’