We continue our series looking at how Carolina Panthers’ rookies from 2013 performed and what we should expect looking forward. We’ve already examined the 2014 prospects for Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short, and Edmund Kugbila. Now we move onto linebacker A.J. Klein, who displayed his talent in a spot start against the San Francisco 49ers last November. He had six tackles and sacked Colin Kaepernick in helping the Panthers pull off the upset. He could be ready for a bigger role in 2014.
2013 Stats: 21 total tackles, 2 sacks, 16 games played, 2 starts
2013 Review: Klein wasn’t expected to do much last season with all the depth at linebacker. However Klein showed excellent potential in two starts, three if you count the Atlanta game where he played a starting amount of snaps. A.J. Klein’s combine numbers (4.66 40 yard dash, and 114 inch broad jump) were right on the league average, but his explosiveness jumped out in games. He’s a good tackler, and was solid in coverage in his limited reps. For a rookie, he seemed to have outstanding instincts. He had snaps at every linebacker spot during the season and was one of the team’s better special teams players.
What He Needs To Work On: There’s not much Klein can do about his athleticism, so he needs to keep working the mental side of the game. He’s already good enough in my mind to be a starter on several teams, but his coverage skills still leave something to be desired. He’s a natural leader though with a tenacious playing style. Seeing him line up next to Luke Kuechly either this or next year will be fun to watch. Athletically, Klein is as good as incumbent starter Chase Blackburn, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him grab the strong side job this year.
2014 Prediction: 16 starts, 60 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 interception. Klein could have more tackles, but I expect Thomas Davis and Kuechly to take them all up from the more productive Will and Mike spots on the defense.