Kimberly's Klein hopes to make mark at NFL Combine

Feb. 20, 2013
NCAA Football: Liberty Bowl-Iowa State vs Tulsa
A.J. Klein's instincts, intelligence and intangibles made him one of the top defensive players in the Big 12 Conference the past three years. / Gannett photo

Up next

The NFL Scouting Combine starts today at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis and runs through Tuesday.


A.J. Klein’s instincts, intelligence and intangibles were attributes that made him one of the top defensive players in the Big 12 Conference the past three years.

But the former Kimberly Papermaker knows the next stop in his football career will be largely determined by the click of a stopwatch, his agility around a series of cones and how he fares in a gauntlet of additional physical tests the next week at the National Football League Scouting Combine.

Klein, a three-year starting linebacker for Iowa State, is one of more than 300 collegiate players invited to participate in the league’s annual showcase for prospective NFL players at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis.

Klein is projected as a middle-round pick in the April 25-27 NFL draft, but could climb even higher with a strong combine showing.

“We’ve had great conversations with virtually every team in the league and he’s a well-thought-of young player,” said Tim Valentyn, a 1972 Kimberly High School graduate and one of Klein’s agents at XAM Sports based in Madison. “We’re optimistic he’s going to test well at the combine. He’s got such a great work ethic and he’s an exceptional athlete. It’s really difficult to predict, though, where he’ll go in the draft. I think he’s a top 100 guy.”

Klein, 6-1, 246, played weak-side, mike (middle) and strong-side linebacker spots in a 4-3 scheme at Iowa State, and is projected as an inside linebacker in the NFL. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. told The Gazette in Cedar Rapids in December that Klein would likely be a fourth-round selection.

“The scouts really don’t tell you anything in terms of how high you might get picked,” said Klein in a telephone interview. “All the mock drafts are done by analysts who aren’t affiliated with NFL teams, so you really don’t know. From what I’ve heard from the media, they’re saying fourth round, but I’m looking to improve my status at the combine and hopefully I can climb into that third round. Obviously, I’ve got to make a name for myself this week.”

Klein has been preparing for the combine the past several weeks at Athletes Performance Institute, a training center for elite athletes in Pensacola, Fla. He is a solid student and is close to obtaining a degree in kineseology-pre-physical therapy at Iowa State, but took the winter semester off to focus on training for the combine.

“The combine is like a giant meat market, but it’s the one place where you can showcase your talents,” said Klein, a member of Kimberly’s Division 2 state championship football teams in 2007 and 2008 . “At API, we worked a lot on explosiveness. We’d break down the 40 (yard-dash) and the fundamentals of running, and work on little details that will hopefully translate into better 40 times.”

Klein has thoroughly prepared himself for interviews with NFL personnel and taken pre-Wonderlic tests, which gauges a player’s intelligence.

“There are a lot of interviews and it goes well beyond just the physical tests,” said Klein. “I think you just have to be upfront and honest, and prepared for some of the questions they might ask.”

Klein was a highly productive player at Iowa State. He recorded 344 tackles (19 for loss) in his three years as a starter and finished as the school’s seventh all-time leading tackler. He also returned four interceptions for touchdowns (an NCAA record for linebackers) and was a two-time all-Big 12 player and the conference’s co-defensive player of the year in 2011.

Klein was known at Iowa State for his preparation and willingness to spend long hours in the film room, but he’s a bit more than just a smart, savvy linebacker. Kiper Jr. described him in the Gazette as “an athletic kid who has good sideline-to-sideline range.”

“I like to think I’m a cerebral player who is able to diagnose and read plays quickly and flow to the ball fast,” said Klein. “I’ve always put in the extra time in the film room to study and learn tendencies. All the credit to my maturation as a football should go to coach (Wally) Burnham (the defensive coordinator at Iowa State).

“But I like to think of myself as being athletic enough to be able to play at the next level. With the way the game has gone with the mobile quarterbacks and new offenses popping up, there is more and more stress on the defensive positions and being athletic.”

Klein grew up a Green Bay Packers fan and would love to be employed at Lambeau Field, but he’s not in a position to be choosy over his next football home.

“Sure, the possibility of playing for your home-state team is pretty cool, but I’ll be happy to play for anyone,” said Klein. “Hopefully this will be my career for the next several years and I’ll take any opportunity I get in any city. I’m just looking forward to that day when hopefully my name gets called during the draft.”

— Tim Froberg: 920-993-1000, ext. 423, tfroberg@twfroberg, on Twitter @twfroberg

What's your take on the Packers Family Night change?

Retrieving results.
Watching practice is fine.(Your vote)
579 votes
I'd rather watch a scrimmage.(Your vote)
862 votes
I don't want to pay to watch practice.(Your vote)
1025 votes
It doesn't matter to me.(Your vote)
1278 votes

Catch up on the latest in our pregame show every game day.

Football fans

If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

Special Reports


Football fans

If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

Special Reports