The Panthers picked Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly at No.9 overall in the NFL draft Thursday night.
My immediate reaction? I like it. I like guys who were incredibly productive in college and never got in trouble. Kuechly, like Jon Beason, is an every-down linebacker -- a great tackler who also is superb at dropping into pass coverage.
The Panthers undoubtedly wanted insurance for two linebackers trying to come back from serious injuries -- Beason (who's likely to be OK) and Thomas Davis (who is attempting an unprecedented comeback from 3 ACL surgeries on the same knee and is much more iffy).
Kuechly might start right away -- Beason and James Anderson are sure things, Davis a maybe at best -- or at the very least he will contribute quickly on special teams and likely will start by midseason due to some sort of injury or just his production.
Believe me: Kuechly won't stay on the bench very long. The Panthers didn't pick him to be a backup. This is a very important pick for Ron Rivera, a former NFL linebacker himself, much like Cam Newton was.
Kuechly (pronounced KEEK-Lee) will help the Panthers on defense immediately, where the team allowed franchise highs in points and total yards in 2011. That's where they needed the help. And I like this idea more than taking UNC's Quinton Coples, who bottom line just wasn't as productive as Kuechly was in college.
Coples said in response to my question Thursday night in New York about the Panthers sending Ron Rivera and Marty Hurney to see him again in Chapel Hill Monday and then passing on him: “I think they made the best decision for their program and their franchise and that’s all I have to say about it."
Only bummer for me? I'm in New York, wishing I could personally interview the Panthers' No.1 draft choice. Not happening. Kuechly -- alone among the top 10 picks -- decided not to come to New York for the draft, watching it instead at home in Cincinnati.
4 weeks ago