Defensive Player of the Year — Luke Kuechly, LB
For the final time, we can declare Luke Kuechly the Panthers’ Defensive Player of the Year. Carolina’s best linebacker of all-time retired on January 14th; however, he has since expressed interest in returning to the Panthers in a coaching or advisory role. Kuechly spent his entire eight-year career with Carolina, and was once again the team’s best defensive player in 2019.
Despite struggling somewhat in Carolina’s first year running a 3-4 defense, Kuechly still managed a team-leading 144 tackles. He ranked fifth in the league in the category. 2019 marked his seventh-straight season being named to both the Pro Bowl and one of the All-Pro teams. Kuechly had at least 100 tackles in each of his eight NFL campaigns, becoming the first player to ever do so. Even in a “down” year, Kuechly remained the leader of the defense both on and off the field. When things went wrong, LUUUKKE was someone everybody else looked to.
Now in retirement, Kuechly’s legacy doesn’t stop with the Panthers. Compared to recent Hall of Fame inductees Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher, his resume is just as eye-popping. 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.