In case you missed it, here is the underrated bracket:
Most Underrated Panthers
1. Chris Gamble
||1. Chris Gamble
|16. Brentson Buckner
|8. Mike Minter||???|
|9. Nick Goings|
|5. Michael Bates||???||???|
|12. Will Witherspoon|
|4. Thomas Davis||4. Thomas Davis|
|13. Travelle Wharton|
|6. Brad Hoover||???||???||???|
|11. Keydrick Vincent|
|3. Al Wallace||14. James Anderson|
|14. James Anderson|
|7. Jeff Mitchell||???||???|
|10. Brandon LaFell|
|2. Charles Johnson||2. Charles Johnson
|15. Kris Mangum|
Today we're voting on the 5 vs. 12 matchup -- Michael Bates vs. Will Witherspoon.
These underrated brackets are so hard, and this one is no different.
Michael Bates is probably the greatest special teams player we've ever had not named Brad Nortman, yet he's always forgotten because he was a special teamer. It's difficult to really call a kick returner underrated, but Bates certainly was.
Here's a list of all the franchise records that Bates holds:
- Most career kickoff return yards (5,987)
- Most career kickoff return touchdowns (5)
- Most career kickoff returns (233)
- Most kickoff return yards in a single season: 1,480 (1998)
- Most kickoff return touchdowns in a single season: 2 (1998) (tied with Steve Smith)
I'm sure you're probably wondering why Bates is listed in the underrated bracket with numbers like that. Well, to me it's simple: Whenever we discuss the "best all-time" Panthers, how many times do we even mention Bates in the conversation? Not very many, and that's why he's underrated.
Will Witherspoon was equally underrated. He was drafted in 2002 by John Fox to help fix a broken defense, and as soon as he stepped on the field he made an impact.
Here's a snippet from Spoon's Wikipedia (aka "the internet") page:
Witherspoon was the latest addition to new coach John Fox's overhaul of the defense, and Witherspoon's versatility at linebacker helped the Panthers total the second-best defense in the league. He replaced Dan Morgan at middle linebacker halfway through the season after Morgan went down with injury. He finished the season with 71 tackles and 1.5 sacks, his first half sack coming at the Cleveland Browns on December 1.
During the 2003 NFL season, Witherspoon was the only Panther linebacker to start every game, where he once again filled in for an injured Morgan at middle linebacker. He intercepted his first pass off New Orleans Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks. During Super Bowl XXXVIII, Witherspoon posted a career-high 16 tackles. He ended the campaign with a total of 99 tackles, one sack and one interception.
The following year, "Spoon" was one of the few defensive players to start every game for the Panthers, who were wracked with injuries. Despite the loss of key personnel like defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, the Panthers led the league in interceptions. Witherspoon set personal bests with three sacks and four interceptions and a then career-high of 103 tackles. In 2005, his final year with the Panthers, Witherspoon played in 15 games and finished the season 81 tackles, 2.5 sacks and two interceptions.
After reading this it's clear that Spoon was a bigger piece of the defense than a lot of people realized, so I think it's safe to say that he was underrated, especially when you factor in the team's decision to let him go via free agency instead of retaining him. (Granted, we ended up with Jon Beason and eventually Luke Kuechly, but still.)
Alright, now it's time to vote. Who do you think deserves to move on in the tournament? Let's open up the poll and find out who comes out on top. This is a tough vote, but it has to be done. So, who do you think was more underrated -- Michael Bates or Will Witherspoon? Cast your vote now!
Please remember that voting will close in 48 hours.