TFG’s Rookie Roundup series features a multitude of draft prospects, illuminated through Q&As. Learn more about their off-the-field lives, as well as where they may fit in in the NFL. We’ll be adding players frequently between now and April 25th (start of the NFL Draft), so please check back often!
A.J. Klein, the 6’1 inside linebacker out of Iowa State is a diehard Packers fan, which is mandatory for anyone from Kimberly, Wisconsin, a town 36 miles southwest of Green Bay. But Klein will be thrilled when his name is called by any team in April, even if that team is Chicago, Minnesota or Detroit.
Despite tying a FBS record for linebackers with four interceptions returned for touchdowns, Klein will be out to prove his athleticism this week at the Combine. NFLDraftScout.com currently projects Klein to go in the 5th round. (Hey, that’s just two rounds behind where Packer great Ray Nitschke was drafted in 1958!)
Melissa Jacobs: When did you realize you were good enough to play at the next level?
A.J. Klein: I want to say my big eye-opening was after my junior season when I finished up, getting the accolades and getting [Big 12] Defensive Player of the Year. I felt it every game, knowing I was one of the better players on the field. But I’ve always had aspirations to play at the next level and I always knew I had what it takes.
MJ: Talk about how playing in the Big 12 has prepared you for the current NFL landscape.
AJK: The list goes on and on when you talk about the Big 12. I had the chance to play against DeMarco Murray as a sophomore. There are lots of guys coming up this year that are really high profile. And then playing against Justin Blackmon and RGIII, obviously. I mean really, really good football players. These are guys that are starting in the NFL and making an impact. It’s cool to watch games on Sundays and see guys you competed against doing so well at the next level.
MJ: Which NFL linebacker, past or present, does your style most emulate?
AJK: This is a really hard question. I want to say I’m like my own separate person. And everyone is different. But I try and emulate the style of play you’d see with Brian Cushing, the very aggressive guys. You can say Brian Urlacher, Ray Lewis, those guys who really control the defense and are the leaders of teams. But as far as who I compare myself to, I don’t really compare myself to anyone.
MJ: Pretend like I’m a scout or general manager and tell me in :30 seconds or less why I should draft you.
AJK: When people ask me to describe myself I say I’m outgoing, a hard worker. I have a passion for football, and am a very passionate person. And overall I just think I’ll get the job done. I don’t like to let people down and disappoint so I think I’ll leave everything on the field and be a guy everyone can rely on.
MJ: Who are you most looking forward to meeting at the Combine?
AJK: That’s a tough question, too. I’d say head coaches of any team. General managers of any team. It’s such a great opportunity and I look forward to sitting down and speaking with people. Over the course of training in Pensacola and even at the East-West Shrine Game, I’ve met so many guys and it will be fun to see where they’re all at. And it will also be fun to make new friends with guys in the same situation.
MJ: Do you know your Combine roommate?
AJK: I do not. That’s a big question mark.
MJ: What would you be pursuing in life if not an NFL career?
AJK: Right now, I’ve been studying kinesiology. So after I’m finished with my degree I’ll most likely go to grad school, which I think is a 3-4 year program, earn my Ph.D and practice. I grew up around my dad being a physical therapist and had a chance to shadow him and really enjoyed that aspect. I obviously don’t want to walk away from football anytime soon, but later between the PT route and strength and conditioning there are a lot of directions I can go with my degree.
MJ: What’s the first thing you’re going to buy when you sign your rookie contract?
AJK: I don’t need a car. I’m a pretty simple person. I joke around and say I’d like to get some new clothes. If there’s one thing I could get to spoil myself I’d like a new set of golf clubs. I’ve taken up golf as a way to pass time over the summer the last few years.
MJ: Give me one thing people can remember about you. A hidden talent? Superstition?
AJK: People might think this is weird or gross but during pregame warm-ups, because I don’t have a mouthguurd with a string attached to the facemask, because I hate those things, I always tuck the mouthguard in my right sock. I don’t know why but I’ve been doing it since junior year in high school. But hey, I never lose it that way!