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Monday, February 3, 2014

Rookie Review: AJ Klein

After the "Who?" of Ed Kugbila, started coming the "huh?" picks. Not
out of a lack of value, but out of expectation that the team needed
players in the defensive backfield, more linemen, and some believed hard
in the need for skill players.

At that spot, it was hard to think LB. The team had three starters,
plus Chase Blackburn, and a slew of special teamers. There wasn't even
considered room for another guy. I liked OT David Quesenberry, an
athletic but raw blocker.

In hindsight, it's hard to say "don't take him". TE Luke Willson has
been a solid contributor for the Seahawks. Somewhat notably, current
Panther Tavarres King went after Klein, to the Broncos, before Carolina
eventually picked him up.


2013 season performance

Klein started the season as the 6th LB, and finished it vying for the
3rd spot. His stat sheet wasn't gaudy, and when you're on the field
with Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly, you've gotta work for it. 21
tackles and 2 sacks isn't anything to send to the Hall of Fame just yet.
But his quality when he played was incredible for a rookie.

Playing 129 snaps fits pretty well with having played about three games
given the way the Panthers use the 3rd LB. In his three games playing
extensively (non-starting ATL, then @SF and NE, both starts), hehad 11
tackles and a sack, which extrapolates out to a 16 game season of 44
tackles and 4 sacks (though the sack is potentially an outlier, Klein
was one of 5 non-DL to have at least two sacks, as he also notched a
sack against Tampa a few weeks later). Since he had 3 tackles with that
Tampa sack, it does seem to follow the extrapolation to a point.
Klein's a productive player while on the field, and that's critical for
a rookie.

Longterm Prognosis

Klein's a deceptively fast, rangy LB who can start at any of the three
spots. At worst, he's excellent depth, and he's a player that should
figure into starting eventually. He's an instinctive, able guy who
could, on a lesser team, likely end up a pretty good MLB or OLB that
cleans up a ton of tackles. He seems to be OK in coverage, too. Not "OK
for a 5th", allright for a linebacker in general (wish I had his
coverage QB rating/overall stats of targets/etc).

And, in the meantime he's a guy who should be an excellent special
teamer. So, this pick is a definite win.
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