Let me begin by saying that this top ten list is based solely on my opinion. I didn't use any complicated formula to determine who belonged on the list, but I did value certain criteria during the process. Although a large portion of my player evaluations relied on production based metrics such as statistics and accolades, I also took into account their leadership skills and character. Sustained success over a period of five or more seasons was also important when I was rating each individual, but I didn't necessarily penalize someone who was only in Carolina for several seasons. Ultimately, everyone has their own unique perspective, and that is what makes this type of exercise so enjoyable to me. Be sure to grade my list in the poll after the jump, and don't hesitate to share your own top ten with CSR in the comment section that follows. Let the debating begin.
10. Dan Morgan
I had to put Morgan on the list for no other reason than the fact that he recorded 18 tackles in our 2003 Super Bowl appearance. Of course, he was more to this team than just that one game. The following year, he became a Pro Bowler and All-Pro for the first and only time. Sadly, I will always look back on his seven season career with the Panthers with ambivalence. When Morgan was on the field, he always made an impact, but his injury history never allowed him to play a full season. When I think of number fifty-five, I will always think about what might have been.
9. Mike Rucker
Rucker was one of the nicest guys to ever play for the Panthers and he was always consistently giving his best. As a result, he put up some solid numbers in his nine season career here in Carolina. Perhaps Rucker's greatest strength was his leadership on and off the field. He is another one of those guys that you have a hard time criticizing because of how much effort he also put into his charitable endeavors around the Charlotte community.
8. Mike Minter
Like Ruck, Minter also spent his entire career with the Panthers. It didn't take long for Minter to make an impact. By the sixth game of his rookie season, he was starting, and held onto that role until he retired ten years later. At 5'10", he was undersized for the safety position, but he was tough as nails, and overachieved as a result. For instance, in the Panthers only Super Bowl appearance in 2003, he played the entire game despite breaking his foot in the 3rd quarter, and still managed to record 18 total tackles. When I look at some of his stats over his career with the Panthers, I find it hard to believe that he was never honored as a pro bowler. Even though he never received that distinction while in the NFL, he did become an honorary member of my top ten Panthers' defenders of all time, and that should count for something, right?
7. Kevin Greene
Greene may have played only three seasons with the Panthers, but they sure were dynamic ones. Over that time period, he accumulated 41.5 sacks and was one of the main contributors to the 1996 team that made it to the NFC Championship game. Greene was also one of the players who undoubtedly captured the imaginations of a burgeoning young fan base that is still growing strong today.
6. Kris Jenkins
Love him or hate him, four-time Pro Bowler Kris Jenkins was one of our best second round picks of all time. Come to think of it, he was our best second round pick, period. He was arguably the most dominate defensive tackle of his time as well. It doesn't seem that long ago that Jenkins joined Brentson Buckner, Julius Peppers, and Mike Rucker to form one of the most ferocious defensive lines in the NFL. In fact, ever since Jenkins and Rucker left the team after the 2007 season through free agency and retirement, respectively, the Panthers defensive line has been a mess. He might have made it higher on my list had he stayed healthy, and he most certainly would have been a top five candidate had he finished his career with the Panthers.
5. Eric Davis
If you're a stats geek, then perhaps you may remember that five is the magic number for one of our greatest cornerbacks of all time. Amazingly, Davis recorded five interceptions in each of his five seasons with the Panthers, and he naturally seemed like the perfect fit at number five in my top ten. Although Davis' first six years in the NFL were spent with the 49ers, his best seasons came as a Panther. However, he isn't the Panthers best cornerback of all time by my estimation. That distinction is reserved for the next player on my list.
4. Chris Gamble
I can see the comments coming fast and furious on this one. 'What were you thinking?' , 'How can Gamble be rated ahead of Davis?', ' How could you put Gamble as high as number four?'
First of all, he recently surpassed Davis' record for most interceptions in Panthers history. Secondly, Gamble has spent the better part of eight seasons locking receivers down for the Panthers, whereas Davis only did it for five. Finally, Davis was never a part of any Panthers team that went to the playoffs, whereas Gamble was an integral part of our playoff runs in the 2005 and 2008 seasons.
3. Jon Beason
It's hard to argue with the results since we drafted Beast in 2007. After taking over for Dan Morgan during his rookie season, Beason has done everything you could ask for from the middle linebacker position. He earned a trip to the Pro Bowl for three straight seasons from 2008-2010 and was honored as an All-Pro for two of those seasons('08-'09). His production dipped a bit in 2010 when he took over the weakside after Thomas Davis went down with his second ACL injury. Even though that wasn't his most natural position, he willingly moved there for the team, and further proved that he is a consummate professional. Unfortunately, he did go down to injury this past season, but that didn't make or break his position in my top ten. There is no doubt in my mind that his leadership, intelligence, and athleticism are the key components that have led him where he is today. If he keeps it up, he might just make it to number one some day.
2. Sam Mills
I'm not sure how this one is going to go over with CSR nation. Mills, a two-time All-Pro in his three season with the Panthers, may be the most passion-invoking Panther player of all time. That was how he played the game, and the fans reflected as much. Of course, we still do, and part of the reason why is because of his legacy that still burns within us. Many of you may have him at number one, and I think that's great. Personally, as good as Mills was, I couldn't elevate him that high because he only played three seasons with the Panthers. They were certainly some of the best seasons we fans can ever remember as the tidal wave of Panther pride was ascending ever so quickly following that amazing run to the playoffs in 1996. His leadership, toughness, and passion for the game will always be a part of who we are as fans. As you would expect, those same attributes spilled over into the his post football career when he was hired as a linebackers coach after retiring with the Panthers. If this were a list of the most inspirational Panthers of all time, Mills would most certainly be number one. As it stands for me right now, he is the second best Panther player of all time, and that is remarkable for someone who only wore the blue and black for three seasons. Although Mills has been gone for seven years now, his legacy still lives on today, and always will. Keep Pounding.
1. Julius Peppers
Yes, I'm a life-long Panther fan. Have I ever mentioned that I'm a life-long Tarheel fan as well? Here we go. Let the name-calling begin. Before you resort to those measures, give me a chance to explain myself. Trust me, if I could be dishonest with myself during this top ten exercise, then I wouldn't have Peppers at number one. I, like some of you, have felt some of the same repugnant emotions toward this former Panther over the last couple of years. In all actuality, I guess you could say that he never truly broke my heart when he left because it seemed like he had been gone long before. Time and time again he turned down multiple overtures from the front office. With each passing rejection, the more desensitized I became, and when he finally left, there wasn't much room for pain. If he's found freedom in the frenzied confines of Chicago after being released from the bondage of Charlotte's boundaries, then more power to him. To that end, I have to be true to the numbers, and they don't lie my CSR friends. There is no denying that Mr. P was, and still is, the best defensive player the Panthers have ever had. With that being said, I honestly can't wait until someone steps up enough to surpass him one day.