Former Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly is a sure-fire Hall of Famer

Luke Kuechly of the Carolina Panthers (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Luke Kuechly of the Carolina Panthers (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly shocked the sports world when he announced his retirement on Tuesday night.

Mere hours after the Carolina Panthers hired Joe Brady on Tuesday night, the franchise was hit with a major curveball: the retirement of star linebacker Luke Kuechly. In an emotional video posted to the Panthers’ Twitter page, Kuechly made the announcement while fighting back tears.

"“There’s only one way to play this game, since I was a little kid, is to play fast and play physical and play strong. At this point, I’m not sure if I’m able to do that anymore. That’s the part that is most difficult. I still want to play, but I don’t think it’s the right decision. I’ve thought about it for a long time and I think now is an opportunity to step away with what’s going on here.”"

The 28-year-old leaves the NFL having played all eight seasons in Carolina, having made the Pro Bowl seven times, and five times being named a first team All-Pro. He was the 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year, and was the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. Kuechly retires as the franchise’s second-leading tackler, and as one of the most beloved players to ever suit up in a Panthers uniform.

Compared to some of the greatest linebackers to ever play, Kuechly’s resume is incredibly worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Over the past eight seasons, perhaps no other linebacker in the NFL has been as consistently dominant as Kuechly has. During that time, the former first-round pick had more tackles than anyone in the league, and has more interceptions than any other linebacker. Kuechly recorded at least 100 tackles in each year of his career, becoming just the fifth player in NFL history to have eight consecutive 100-tackle seasons. In Week 16 of the 2013 campaign, he tied the NFL record for the most tackles in a single game with 24. When the coaching staff was watching film the following week, they determined he actually had 26. Even though he played just eight years, his time in the league ranks among the most dominant of any defensive player ever.

Compared to recent Hall of Fame inductees Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher, Kuechly’s resume is just as notable. Through their first eight seasons, Kuechly had more tackles, interceptions, and fumble recoveries than Urlacher, and was on pace with Lewis in each of those categories. In fact, over their first eight years, Kuechly had 19 more tackles for loss than the former Raven. Kuechly’s single-season totals are just as impressive when compared to the two Hall of Famers. His 164 tackles in 2012 were more than Urlacher ever achieved in a single season in his career, and a number Lewis surpassed in just two of his 17 years in the league. On top of that, Kuechly was named to more Pro Bowls and All-Pro teams than either of the other two during their first eight years. The former Panther obviously doesn’t have the career numbers to stack up to those of Urlacher and Lewis; however, their eight-year stats are extremely similar.

Perhaps a more appropriate and even more recent comparison is former 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis. Like Kuechly, Willis played just eight years in the NFL before announcing his own retirement following the 2014 season. The two star defenders played in almost exactly the same amount of games, with Kuechly holding the edge in tackles and interceptions, while Willis had a slight advantage in sacks and forced fumbles. The fact that Willis is generally regarded as a lock for the Hall of Fame should be very encouraging for Kuechly. Seeing as though they had almost identical careers, if one gets in, so will the other. The only hindrance to their entry is the fact that they each had relatively short careers. Even still, the numbers they put up ultimately make them both Hall of Fame worthy, although it may not necessarily be on the first ballot.

Former Panthers head coach Ron Rivera gave Kuechly’s Hall of Fame hopes an added boost of confidence.

Soon after the Panthers posted Kuechly’s video announcement, long-time Carolina head coach Ron Rivera sent out his own tweet, stating that after playing with HOFer Mike Singletary and coaching the aforementioned Urlacher, he believes that Kuechly is deserving of the same honor. In addition, both current and former teammates, as well as others from around the league, sent congratulatory messages via social media. Among them were Greg Olsen, Thomas Davis, Christian McCaffrey, and the Saints’ Michael Thomas. On top of praising the player and competitor that Kuechly was, the messages also shed light on what he means as a person and a leader. It’s safe to say Panther fans feel the same. Congrats on a great career, Luke. We can’t wait to see you in Canton.