Kuechly can be problem-solver in Carolina

Kuechly can be problem-solver in Carolina

The Carolina Panthers were thinking about trading down. At least until Luke Kuechly was on the board. The Panthers took the Boston College linebacker with the ninth overall pick, bypassing more glaring needs at other positions.

The Carolina Panthers were thinking about trading down.

At least until Luke Kuechly was on the board.

The Panthers took the Boston College linebacker with the ninth overall pick, bypassing more glaring needs at other positions.

"He was a guy that we knew, if he was there, he was the option," Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said. "He's a smart, instinctive, explosive football player. He's a sideline-to-sideline tackler. He just has great football intelligence."

The Panthers think the 6-foot-3, 242-pound Kuechly can play all three linebacker spots, and there may be a need at two of them.

With weakside linebacker Thomas Davis coming off his third torn ACL, and middle linebacker Jon Beason recovering from a torn Achilles, the Panthers are hopeful but not certain about their health.

Now, after drafting the NCAA's leading tackler the last two years -- who set a record with double-digit tackles in 33 straight games -- the Panthers have cover if not more.

"He's one of those guys who makes the guys around him better," head coach Ron Rivera said.

Davis could be the first odd man out, though the Panthers could take advantage of his speed (if well) as a situational player. He took a huge pay cut to stay this offseason, and his medical file makes his situation tenuous.

Beason and strongside linebacker James Anderson also signed big extensions during the 2011 quick-strike offseason.

The most likely scenario might be Beason sliding to the weakside, with Kuechly playing the middle. Unless Davis proves to be trustworthy, they'd be the two in sub packages, as Anderson is not great in coverage.

Beason has gone along with but quietly resisted moves outside in the past. He sees himself as a true middle linebacker, and before the Achilles tear, his speed made him excellent in coverage.

The draft slot is Kuechly's second honor in Charlotte, as he won the Bronko Nagurski Award in December.

The Panthers will now hope to fill some pass-rush and cornerback needs in the second day of the draft. They have the 40th overall pick in the second round, but lack a third-rounder after last year's trade for tight end Greg Olsen. That's why they were thinking about trading back, but Hurney said once it became clear they'd have a chance at Kuechly, they didn't think about it again.

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