With their 4th choice/5th-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers chose linebacker A.J. Klein from Iowa State. Klein shared the Big 12 2011 Defensive Player of the Year award with none other than…Oklahoma’s DE Frank Alexander. Now they’re teammates on the Carolina Panthers.
Klein looks to take over the duties of the strong-side linebacker in Ron Rivera’s 4-3 scheme, replacing jettisoned OLB James Anderson.
He’s an athletic player capable of playing on the outside and will probably wind up being Luke Kuechly’s backup while learning the ropes in the NFL and the different responsibilities of being the SAM linebacker. He has the speed to cover many NFL tight ends and can be a three-down player. For those of you grumping about taking Edmund Kugbila “too early,” let me point out that Klein had a 3rd-4th round grade and was nabbed in the 5th, so keep in mind that those on the outside of the NFL looking in don’t know everything.
Klein has outstanding ability to diagnose a play and read his keys, putting him in early position to make a play. He has good acceleration and is quicker than he looks at 6’1″ 250 lbs. He’s very good at shedding would-be blockers and uses his speed to often beat blockers to the ball. He’s a disruptive player who can cover in the passing game and is a good open-field tackler, something the Panthers need more of.
As athletic as he is for his size, he’s not quite on that level of athleticism most teams look for in an outside linebacker but it appears that his instincts make up for that half-step or so of lost speed. His lack of height plus lack of high top-end speed will make him better in zone coverage than in man-to-man, especially against the more elite TEs in the NFL who are all going to be several inches taller than Klein as well, but he can get the job done – depending on the match-up – in man coverage.
He was a 3-year starter at Iowa State and is a smart player who can play any linebacker position, but the SAM spot looks to be where he’ll be employed in the Carolina Panthers defensive scheme.
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