I like this kid - WACO, Texas — Art Briles doesn't need an elaborate NFL scouting service to tell him the virtues of Baylor linebacker Joe Pawelek. As Baylor's coach, Briles knows how special Pawelek is and how effective he's been the past three-plus seasons. "He's an unbelievable human being to begin with and an outstanding football player," Briles said. "I think he's as good as anybody in America as an inside linebacker." NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. also sees thevalue of Pawelek. Kiper rates Pawelek as the fifth-best senior inside linebacker prospect in the nation behind Florida's Brandon Spikes, Penn State's Sean Lee, Kentucky's Micah Johnson and Iowa's Pat Angerer. Pawelek has been so effective that his coaches and teammates have no doubt he'll be playing in the NFL this time next year. "That's a good linebacker right there," Bears nose tackle Trey Bryant said. "I know for sure Joe will be playing on Sundays." Baylor strongside linebacker Antonio Jones has an up-close look at how valuable Pawelek is. "Joe is always in the right spot," Jones said. "Sometimes Joe knows what (the offense is) doing before they even do it. His football IQ is pretty high. He can make plays." In last week's 30-22 loss to Connecticut, Pawelek finished with 21 tackles and a sack. He is tied with New Mexico linebacker Carmen Messina and UT-El Paso defensive back Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith for the national lead in tackles per game at 14. Pawelek has 341 career tackles, the most among active major-division players, and leads the nation with 187 career assisted tackles. The numbers, though, don't mean everything to Pawelek. He would gladly trade the tackles for a few more wins. "I think (leading the nation in tackles) is a goal, in terms of me always trying to be the best," Pawelek said. "In terms of a certain number or a place in the nation, I don't really look for that." Instead, he measures himself on the success of Baylor's program. "I think coach Briles and his staff have come in and established a program that's really on the rise," Pawelek said. "I would like to think that this is where it starts getting good." Much of that success is because of Pawelek, who's ability extends to more than just tackling. "I think his strongest characteristic is leadership, and playing with a guy like that on the field, you can't do anything but step your playing level up," safety Byron Landor said. "He's an excellent player and I love playing with him. "If you feel down or if you make a mistake, just looking at him running around and making tackles left and right, you can't do anything but want to make the next play, or say, 'Man, I've got to get a tackle somewhere, because he's going to take them all if you don't.' " Pawelek (6-foot-2, 240 pounds) has been so durable that Saturday's 6 p.m. home game against Northwestern (La.) State will be his 36th consecutive start. The school record is 45 set by defensive back Maurice Lane, whose career ended in 2005.