For the second straight year the Carolina Panthers have a rookie of the year on their roster. Last year Cam Newton took home the award on the offensive side of the ball, and tonight it was announced that middle linebacker Luke Kuechly has won the Associated Press's defensive rookie of the year.
It wasn't just an amazing rookie season for Kuechly, it was an amazing season by any standards. Finishing with a league-high 164 tackles, he had over 100 solo tackles while adding two interceptions, eight passes defended, and eleven stuffed runs. For a while it looked like Packers' DB Casey Hayward, or Buccaneers' OLB Lavonte David would take home the award -- but as Bill Voth points out, part of the credit goes to the Panthers' PR department for ensuring that Kuechly's name was kept in the mix. On a 7-9 team it can be difficult for a player to get noticed, especially at a non-skill position; the organization made sure he didn't get overlooked.
For a while it looked like a bad experiment. Taking the stalwart Boston College MLB and trying to turn him into a weakside linebacker. When Jon Beason was lost to injury, it was Kuechly's time to take over the middle -- and he took over. Week in, week out we saw a player continue to mature and grow. He ability to recognize and diagnose plays improved, his first step became quicker, and in ten games he recorded double-digit tackles.
In week fourteen against the Atlanta Falcons, Kuechly has his best game as a pro. Finishing with 16 tackles, he grounded a high-flying Falcons offense, and ensured their play-action passing game could never get started. He has now cemented himself as the Panthers' future at the position, while Dave Gettleman will need to decide what to do with Beason moving forward.
Marty Hurney had a heck of a send off in Charlotte, as the final two first-round picks under his watch will likely be the two best of his career. With Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly as the team's nucleus on each side of the ball, there is plenty of talent for Gettleman to work with as he attempts to turn the Panthers into a perennial contender.
From everyone here at Cat Scratch Reader we wish Luke Kuechly the most hearty of congratulations for an amazing season, and look forward to watching him moving forward in his career.