For 13 years, Thomas Davis served as a key component of the Panthers’ defense. Over his final eight seasons with the team, many both inside and outside of the organization referred to Davis as the heart and soul of the Carolina defense. His toughness and veteran leadership were key to much of the Panthers’ defensive success during the past decade. Not only did he become the first NFL player to recover from three ACL surgeries on the same knee, but Davis was also a leader in the community and is currently the team’s all-time leading tackler.
Right on the heels of Davis to become the leading tackler in Panthers history is former first-round pick Luke Kuechly. Drafted ninth-overall in 2012, Kuechly has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last six years and has been named a first-team All-Pro five times–by far the most of any Panther all-time. In his now seven full NFL seasons, Kuechly has led the team in tackles every year but one. He has twice lead the league in tackles, and in 2013, won the AP Defensive Player of the Year award, becoming the first Panther to do so. Kuechly is a sure-fire future Hall of Famer and aside from Cam Newton, is the best player Carolina has had in the decade. In fact, he may be the best defensive player the franchise has ever seen.
The heir apparent to Davis, Shaq Thompson is currently having his best professional season yet. Through 13 games, Thompson has 103 tackles, 3.0 sacks, and 10 tackles for loss. His good work was rewarded earlier this month when the Panthers gave him a four-year, $54.2 million contract extension. Only Kuechly and Davis have more tackles than Thompson does in the current decade. Often overlooked prior to this year, the 25-year-old Thompson is cementing himself as a key piece of Carolina’s future.