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The case for the Bucs and BC MLB Luke Kuechly

Posted Apr 25, 2012 by Roy Cummings

Updated Apr 25, 2012 at 01:39 PM

The Tampa Tribune

TAMPA – The consensus around the NFL has the Bucs hoping for the opportunity to spend the fifth pick in Thursday’s draft on either Alabama running back Trent Richardson or Louisiana State cornerback Morris Claiborne.

There is at least one other player the Bucs are likely considering, however, and there’s a chance the Bucs would use their fifth overall pick on him even if one of the other two is still on the board when their turns comes.

That player is Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, who is considered the best linebacker in a class of inside and outside backers that scouts say thins out dramatically after the first round.

Considered a top-20 talent a month ago Kuechly (pronounced KEEK-ly) has been moving up on the draft boards of notable national draft experts for weeks and is now considered a top-seven talent by most analysts.

If the Bucs have Kuechly graded out the same way it would not be a reach for them to grab the former Eagles team captain with the fifth overall pick because linebacker is certainly one of their biggest areas of need.

The Bucs have what they believe is a starting caliber strongside backer in Quincy Black and a starting-caliber middle backer in Mason Foster, but they don’t appear to have an every-down weakside backer.

Kuechly would immediately solve that problem, because not only can he play weakside backer, but his presence would offer the Bucs the opportunity to move Foster to the weakside spot, which is the spot he played most in college.

And it would be an immediate fix. Kuechly is one the few linebackers in this draft who scouts believe is ready to step in and immediately run his new team’s defense as its starting middle linebacker.

“He’s one of the 10 best players in this draft,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said of Kuechly, who is ranked 6th overall on Mayock’s list of the top 100 2012 NFL draft prospects.

“I think he’s the best pure zone drop pass linebacker I’ve ever seen on tape. What usually knocks inside linebackers down is their inability to stay on the field for three plays. It’s the opposite with Kuechly.’’

The 6-foot-3, 242-pound Kuechly is a tackling machine who set an NCAA record with 33 consecutive games with at least 10 tackles and averaged an NCAA-record 14 tackles per game during his three years at BC.

His 15.9 tackles per game as a junior last year set a single-season NCAA record and he’s the only player in ACC history to lead the league in tackles three times.

The Bucs could certainly use a player like that. They ranked 32nd in the league in rush defense last year and were 21st in the league in pass defense, so Kuechly could help in both areas.

He also has a lot of the intangibles the Bucs look for in their prospects. He was a team captain and his love for football and desire to improve, excel and win is considered a major strength, scouts say.

It’s unlikely the Bucs would pass on Richardson to take Kuechly, but they could make an argument for passing on Claiborne, who plays a position the Bucs may eventually be thin at but aren’t right now.

No, Ronde Barber will not be around much longer and Aqib Talib could wind up in jail or suspended as a result of his role in a shooting incindent in Texas early last year.

But the Bucs also added to their cache of corners during free agency by signing Eric Wright and if you count reserves E.J. Biggers and Myron Lewis, they have five cornerbacks who have started a game in the NFL.

The situation at corner is good enough, apparently, that the Bucs are even considering using Barber at safety this year after working him there regularly during last week’s minicamp.

Given that and the fact the Bucs ignored the linebacker position during free agency, it may be that they’re plan all along has been to fill the linebacker need early and add the corners and running backs they need later in the draft.

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