Stats & Info: Luke Kuechly

Who is NFL's top defender?

December, 18, 2013
J.J. Watt, the 2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, is having another strong season. He has 9.5 sacks, he ranks second in the NFL with 22 tackles for loss and fourth with five batted-down passes. However, Watt will be challenged by a strong group of competitors for this year’s award, including a couple of Seahawks:

Richard Sherman, Seahawks CB
Sherman is tied for the league lead with six interceptions this season.

He leads a defense that has a league-high 22 interceptions, and holds opponents to a 32.4 Total QBR, lowest in the NFL. The Seahawks also allow a league-low 174.2 passing yards per game.

Sherman has played 729 of 817 snaps (89 percent), lined up as the cornerback on the defense's left side. Largely because of Sherman’s presence, opposing quarterbacks have been shut down throwing to the right (defense’s left) in Sherman’s area. The Seahawks defense has allowed a 52 percent completion percentage to the right (second best in league), and allowed a league-low 5.6 yards per attempt.

Robert Mathis, Colts DE
Mathis leads the NFL with 16.5 sacks this season, five more than his previous career high.

Last week against the Texans he set the Colts single-season record for sacks (16.5) and career record for sacks (108.0). He has forced fumbles on six of his sacks, tied for the most strip-sacks in the NFL.

Nine of his sacks this season have come when the opposing team has at least six offensive lineman in to block, 2.5 more than the next closest defender in the league. And it’s not as though the Colts are sending a lot of blitzes; Mathis leads the NFL with 11.5 sacks as part of a four-man pass rush.

Luke Kuechly, Panthers LB
Kuechly has 122 tackles this season, tied for fifth in the NFL (he led the NFL in his rookie season with 164 tackles).

Kuechly has been a tackling machine in the Panthers' biggest games, recording three of his four double-digit tackle games against the 49ers, Patriots and Saints this season.

He has been a driving force behind the league’s most improved defense, and perhaps best front seven. The Panthers allowed 22.7 points per game last season, 18th in the NFL.

They allow 14.9 points per game this season, second fewest in the NFL. And they are the only team in the NFL that ranks in the top five in rushing defense (84.9 yards per game) and passing defense (211.4 yards per game).

Robert Quinn, Rams DE
Quinn leads the NFC with 15.0 sacks this season.

He is two shy of Kevin Carter’s single-season team record (1999). He also leads the league with 24 tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles this season (six strip-sacks).

He is the best pass-rusher on a team with 52 sacks this season, tied with the Broncos for the most in the league.

His sacks also have been timely. Nine of them have been on third down, 2.5 more than anyone else in the NFL.

Earl Thomas, Seahawks FS
Thomas patrols the deep part of the field for the best secondary in the NFL. He has five interceptions this season, tied for fourth most in the NFL.

Thomas has intercepted a league-high three red zone passes this season. Opposing quarterbacks are completing only 35 percent of passes in the red zone against Seattle, the lowest rate in the league.

Thomas also flies all over the field. His 70 solo tackles are tied for fourth most in the NFL among safeties.

Defense is key on AFC West draft boards

April, 20, 2012
Stats & Information gets you ready for the NFL Draft at the end of the month with a look at the biggest need for each team. Today, we finish up with the AFC West.

Denver Broncos
Need: Defensive line

Last season, the Broncos switched from a 3-4 defense to 4-3. Denver got just 2.0 sacks from players lining up as an interior defensive lineman, tied for the fewest among teams playing a 4-3.

Making matters worse, Brodrick Bunkley has departed and Ryan McBean is suspended for the first six games of the season.

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU

Kansas City Chiefs
Need: Interior defense

Chiefs’ nose tackles made little impact last season, registering one sack and three tackles for loss, all by unconditional free agent Kelly Gregg.

The Chiefs allowed seven rushing touchdowns up the middle last season, tied for third-most in the NFL.

ILB Derrick Johnson had 2.0 sacks, five passes defended, two interceptions and nine tackles for loss; ILB partner Jovan Belcher had no sacks, no passes defended, no interceptions and three tackles for loss.

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College

Oakland Raiders
Need: Defensive back

Raiders’ cornerbacks had 27 pass disruptions or interceptions last season, tied for 21st in the NFL. However, 15 of those plays came from Stanford Routt, who was cut in the offseason.

The Raiders allowed nine more touchdowns than interceptions with five-or-more defensive backs on the field last season, tied for the fifth-worst differential in the league.

Oakland has drafted the fastest 40 time from the combine in each of the last three drafts. In 2008, it drafted the second and fifth fastest. The fastest player at this year’s combine was Josh Robinson, a defensive back from Central Florida.

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: No picks in first two rounds
McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: No picks in first two rounds

San Diego Chargers
Need: Offensive line

The Chargers used 19 different offensive line combinations last season, tied for fourth-most in the NFL. Their most used line combo played only 353 of 1,047 snaps together.

San Diego averaged 3.9 yards per rush to the right side last season, tied for fifth-worst in the league.

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: Chandler Jones, OLB, Syracuse
McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: Cordy Glenn, OL, Georgia