Pundits have wanted to hand Luke Kuechly a Rookie of the Year trophy since April. Now that the games have started, perhaps we could dial that back a little bit. The Carolina Panthers linebacker is a stud, but he's not nearly as good as everyone thinks he is.
Look, this is a nuanced stance, and I'm sure Carolina Panthers fans don't really want to hear it. They didn't want to hear it after the draft pick was made, and they certainly didn't during the preseason.
This isn't being a "Luke Kuechly hater." This is being a "Luke Kuechly realist."
Through two games, Kuechly has nine total tackles. That number is good for 14th among all rookies. Also notable, Kuechly has been credited with six assisted tackles—more than 12 of the rookie defenders above him. That means that, essentially, two thirds of Kuechly's tackles are tackles that may or may not have been made whether Kuechly was there or not.
Check out the play above. The running back hits the hole and gains solid yardage in the red zone, and Kuechly earns an assisted tackle by diving into the back of the pile. This play did not help the Panthers, and Kuechly was mostly a bystander.
This is a problem for the Panthers.
Extrapolate Kuechly's numbers over the course of the season, and 72 tackles is a pretty solid total. Durability and consistency have always been two of his strong points, so that number (and higher) is certainly attainable.
Of course, when tackles like this are counted, the number becomes less impressive.
Here, Kuechly is blocked but is able to dive at the ball-carrier as he's already going to the ground! He is credited for a tackle when the back was almost to the ground. That "tackle" (using the term loosely) had little impact on the game other than to pad the rookie's stats.
Just like in college, the response to Kuechly's tackle totals needs to be: "...and?"
Kuechly has no sacks. He has no forced or recovered fumbles, no passes defensed and no interceptions. Unlike fellow rookie Lavonte David, Kuechly does not wear the "green dot" which indicates radio communication with defensive coaches.
Pro Football Focus lists Kuechly as the worst defender on the Panthers defense with a -6.7 rating. They also note that he's missed two tackles.
Kuechly is not doing anything more than chase-and-tackle, and that isn't enough out of such a high pick.
In this play, Kuechly (again) fails to get off his block quickly when the running back cuts back. He is, again, credited with a tackle, but the damage was done long before Kuechly came along and cleaned up a tackle that probably would've happened anyway.
Perhaps even more frightening for the Panthers and their fans is how terrible their defense has been in 2012. PFF lists their defense as third-worst according to their rating system. Statistically, they are 20th in yards allowed and 11th in points allowed.
To repeat, this is not "Kuechly Hate." This is realism.
He is a rookie. He has plenty of time to improve his play and to learn to bring more to the table than inflated tackle totals. The Panthers defense, overall, looks incrementally better than 2011 and will have time to improve as well.
Kuechly isn't on track to be the best rookie (even defensive rookie) of 2012, though his name recognition, padded stats and likability may carry him to numerous awards and accolades at the end of the season.
Until fans and media start to take an actual look at his play, Kuechly will continue to be overrated and not nearly as good as everyone thinks he is.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff alongside other great writers at "The Go Route."