The Panthers may be down MVP Cam Newton on Monday night, but they still have their quarterback on the other side of the ball set for the national stage.
Luke Kuechly, a three-time All Pro and the heart of Carolina’s defense, is one of the best players in the NFL. He’s currently tied for the second-lead in tackles (46) and has four pass break ups in his role as the Mike linebacker, often dropping into coverage against tight ends.
“No. 59, Kuechly, he’s the best middle linebacker in the league,” Jameis Winston said when asked what makes Carolina’s defense good around the ball. “He’s their quarterback for that defense. He puts them in a lot of situations where they’re able to create turnovers.”
For his part creating turnovers over the last four seasons, Kuechly has twice tied for the lead in interceptions for a linebacker, snagging four in 2013 and 2015. His versatility paved the way for a Defensive Player of the Year award in 2013, making Kuechly the youngest player in the NFL history to achieve the honor.
“I think he’s probably the best linebacker in the NFL,” offensive tackle Demar Dotson said. “He’s great and he plays the game with a lot of effort. The guy is a tremendous player but I don’t think we have to change anything that we do to stop him.”
Kuechly, drafted No. 9 overall out of Boston College in 2012, returned the praise for Tampa Bay’s own linebacker core. He was in the same draft class as Lavonte David, an All Pro in his own right, and believes David’s presence has accelerated the growth of Kwon Alexander.
“They’re active, they’re fast, they run well and they get to the football and that’s something I think is fun to see,” Kuechly said over conference call Thursday. “I think Kwon’s very fortunate to have a guy like Lavonte who he can learn from. They’re fun to watch. It’s cool to see within your own division two guys that can run around and make the plays they do. Our offense will have their hands full with those two guys.”