Kuechly finished his first professional season with a league-leading 165 tackles, his strong finish putting noticeable distance between himself and runner-up NaVorro Bowman who finished with 149.
This may not be the only time Kuechly finishes first this year.
He may also win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, becoming just the second Panther to do so after Julius Pepper won the honor in 2002.
The Case for Kuechly
What Kuechly did this year for the Panthers was nothing short of remarkable.
Finishing first the league in tackles is more impressive considering he began the season at weak-side linebacker as three-time Pro Bowler Jon Beason began the season as middle linebacker. Kuechly recorded just 26 tackles in his first four games before Beason was injured in Week 4 allowing Luke to move to MLB.
Since moving to MLB Kuechly has been absolutely dominant, including double-digit tackle performances in nine of his last 12 games.
If Kuechly had played the entire season at MLB he would have dominated the tackles category like Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson have dominated in rushing and receiving yards this year.
Kuechly's also put up solid stats against the pass. A total of 22 players recorded at least 120 tackles this year. Among this 120-tackle group, Kuechly's eight passes defended was only exceeded by London Fletcher (11), Karlos Dansby (9), and Patrick Willis (9).
Kuechly's two interceptions were only exceeded in the 120-tackle club by London Fletcher (5), Bobby Wagner (3), and Paul Posluszny (3).
The Case Against Kuechly
But Kuechly is not alone in making the case for DROY, especially considering the disappointing 7-9 Panthers missed the playoffs.
Bobby Wagoner (140 tackles, 4 passes defended, 3 INTs) made a huge impact on one of the NFL's best defenses, an 11-5 playoff-bound Seattle Seahawks team.
Green Bay Packers' cornerback Casey Hayward will also play in the postseason after he put up 53 tackles, six interceptions, and 21 passes defended. Hayward finished tied for third in the NFL in passes defended and fifth in interceptions.
Minnesota Vikings' safety Harrison Smith is also playoff bound after recording 103 tackles, three interceptions, and 11 passes defended this year. Smith returned two of his interceptions for touchdowns.
If this year's Defensive Rookie of the Year award is going to be given based solely on individual statistics, Luke Kuechly may very well walk away with the award after leading the NFL in tackles and dominating the league in this category in the second half of the season.
But if voters look at individual stats along with team success, the award could easily go to Bobby Wagoner, with Hayward and Smith as likely secondary candidates.
In the end, all four of these rookies had phenomenal seasons.
Let the voting begin.Andrew Sweat covers the NFC South. Visit Andrew's archive or check out these articles:
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Luke Kuechly
- Carolina Panthers