NFC South Top Ten Defensive Performers of 2014
1. DT Gerald McCoy
Don't be fooled by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' record. They have some really good pieces, not the least of which is McCoy. The 26 year old is just now entering his prime, which only means he'll be wreaking havoc in the division for many more seasons to come.
2. DE Greg Hardy
It's hard to believe that Hardy is still only 25 years of age. This is scary for the rest of the division(provided he's re-signed long term by the Panthers) because he still hasn't reached his full potential. I wholeheartedly believe that the football field will be a refuge for the four year pro as he shows the NFL world that an ugly incident will not define his career. The result will be his best season yet.
3. OLB Lavonte David
I can only imagine what some of you are thinking right now. How could this traitor put David before the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Luke Kuechly? Truthfully, I'm not even sure myself. In fact, yesterday I had number 59 ahead of David, but today I had a change of heart. Either way, I don't have any hard evidence to prove anything. If you do, then we should make it a priority to head out to Vegas together.
4. MLB Luke Kuechly
Maybe Kuechly is too low on this list because I've been blinded by his steady production over the course of the last two seasons. He's barely 23 years old and we already know what to expect on any given Sunday from him. There aren't many players who have the ability to dominate the game of football from the linebacker position the way he does. The good news is that he's only just begun scratching the surface of what he can ultimately become, which makes him one of the most irreplaceable players for this Panthers' team.
5. DE Charles Johnson
It's hard to believe that Johnson has already been in the league seven years. The good news is that he is still only 27 years old(28 next month). The Georgia native has been paid handsomely for his services, but I'm in the camp that believes his significant contributions through the years have been invaluable to the Panthers and 2014 will be no exception. I am convinced that Johnson will produce his highest sack total ever if plays all sixteen games.
6. DE Cameron Jordan
Jordan has done nothing but progress since entering the league as the Saints 2011 first round pick. The 24 year old Arizona native has the tools necessary to continue his ascent as one of the best young defensive ends in the league. If Byron Bell and Nate Chandler have anything to do with it, he'll be registering his first 15 plus sack total in 2014.
7. DT Star Lotulelei
It only took one season to figure out that Lotulelei is one of the most indispensable players on the Panthers' roster. His ability to stop the run as a rookie was shockingly good and nearly second to none in all of the NFL. Needless to say, the future is very bright for the 24 year old Tongan. Don't be fooled. The foundation of this defense would soon begin to crack if he were absent from it. His run-stuffing ways alone would be enough to keep this defense elite for years to come, but I'm predicting a big leap from Lotulelei in the pass rushing department starting this fall.
8. CB Desmond Trufant
It's safe to say that the Falcons made a great decision when they elected to use their 2013 first round pick on Trufant. Not only did the tape show a level of advancement that was well beyond his rookie status, but the stats bore this out as well. Did you know that he only allowed a 53.4% completion rate? This was good enough for eighth in all of the NFL. He was truly one of the few bright spots for a team that fielded one of the worst defenses in the league.
9. OLB Thomas Davis
For the Panthers, 58 is more than just a number. It stands for community service. It stands for pride. It stands for someone who could not be denied. In reality, there are at least 58 reasons why Davis is the heart and soul of this team. When faced with adversity, just remember that it took eight seasons and three ACL tears for Davis to realize a career season. Something tells me that the best is still yet to come.
10. CB Alterraun Verner
Lastly, I give you the only newcomer to make the list. Unfortunately for the Panthers, the Tennessee Titans' free agent loss became the gain of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Verner is the perfect example of a guy that can be underrated and overlooked by the average fan when buried underneath a pile of small market neglect and the mediocrity of consistent non-playoff irrelevance. Mark my words. This was quietly one of the best signings in free agency. From a Panthers perspective, Verner figures to be an intriguing test for Kelvin Benjamin in 2014 and beyond.
This was a far cry from the offensive side of the ball, which only saw two Panther players make the list. No bias here. The Panthers were the second best defensive unit in the NFL last year and I gave you five good reasons why we'll see more of the same in 2014.
Now it's your turn to share your own rankings and discuss any questions or concerns about my list. Let the discussion and debate begin.