Ladies and Gentlemen, here are the candidates (in alphabetical order):
Thomas Davis, LB
39 total tackles, 4 TFL, 2 PD, 1 FF
TD has done what many of us thought impossible--come back from a third ACL tear in his right knee to be the dominant player he was before the first injury. Davis brings a unique blend of speed, power and ferocity to the LB position. He rarely misses a tackle, and he still manages to run-down ball-carriers on the opposite side of the field.
A team captain and one of the leaders in the locker room, Panthers fans would like to at least see his name on the ballot for Comeback Player of the Year, but it's probably a safe bet to give the award to Peyton Manning, even now in week 10.
Dwan Edwards, DT
32 total tackles, 1 TFL, 5.0 sacks, 1 FF
Picked up off the waiver wire right before the season started, the expectations for Edwards were low. It's safe to say he has smashed those, and is on his way to a pro bowl-type season. Edwards is 2nd in sacks among 4-3 DTs (to the Bengals' Geno Atkins), and just as important has been his pass rush presence, freeing up the Panthers' DEs so they can rush the passer without him stepping up into the pocket.
Finding a guy like this on the waiver wire is odd. It makes you wonder if he can continue at this pace. If he does, he can notch an All Pro selection into his belt.
Greg Hardy, DE
32 total tackles, 2 TFL, 6.5 sacks
The Kraken has lived up to his nickname so far this season, recently becoming an absolute game-wrecker. He's already topped his best full season in the sack department (7th in sacks among 4-3 DEs), but has been just as impactful in the running game, where he's learned to contain and is much more comfortable stacking and shedding blocks and waiting for ball-carriers.
Hardy has had all the physical tools, but it's been the other stuff that's held him back. To this modest observer, he's really starting to put it all together in this his third season.
Charles Johnson, DE
26 total tackles, 2 PD, 7.5 sacks, 3 FF, 1 FR
CJ has been an interesting player to watch this year. He started off a little slow, registering a sack in only one of the first six games (full disclosure: he sacked Matt Ryan 3.5 times in that one game). Since then, Johnson, along with his sea monster compadre, has been a wrecking ball-- smashing opposing O-lineman and QBs on his way to 7.5 sacks (2nd in sacks among 4-3 DEs).
Armed with a non-stop motor and a devastating bull rush, CJ is beginning to deliver on the promise that compelled Marty Hurney to back the Brinks truck up to Johnson's house. If he keeps delivering multiple sacks every Sunday, you won't hear another word about his contract.
Luke Kuechly, LB
77 total tackles, 8 TFL, 3 PD, 1 INT, 1 FR
His exploits have been discussed at great length at CSR, so I'll just mention his one contribution that I feel helps the most, and that is Kuechly's tackling ability. Uncle Luke is there to make the tackles that would have likely been missed last year. So, maybe the opposing offense picks up five yards, at least it's not the forty-yard back-breaking play the defense yielded far too often in 2011. The difference is, he makes those tackles, or he makes a tackle in the hole-- he doesn't miss them like we saw many a safety and LB do in years past. I know, I said I was only going to talk about one thing, but I'd be remiss not to say that he is also very adept at sniffing out a play and making a tackle for loss, or at least defusing the play before it has time to develop. In time, when the Panthers tackling is better overall, this will become his best asset.
Needless to say, Panthers fans are very excited about this kid, as it appears the Panthers have added a fixture for many years to come.
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