The NFL season is thankfully right around the corner. Despite some crushing injuries that occurred this off-season, the buzz surrounding the Carolina Panthers have reached high standards as the 2015 season quickly approaches.
In honor of the start of the season, here is a list of the Top 10 Panthers’ players right now.
Do you agree?
1. Luke Kuechly
This is a pretty easy choice. In four years in the league, Kuechly has already evolved into the best middle linebacker in the NFL.
Carolina drafted him ninth overall out of Boston College in 2012. At that point, many didn’t know much about him. Soon, Kuechly quickly caught the eyes of the Panthers front office, as he turned into a tackling machine over night. In his short career, he has already won both the Defensive Rookie of the year and NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards.
Also, Kuechly led the league in tackles last season with 153. In total he already has amounted 453 tackles and seven interceptions, which leads the team.
His leadership and non-stop motor has become an admirable fit for the organization. Even the newly elected Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian spoke highly of Kuechly, saying that “He is the Peyton Manning of defenses”.
The high praise from Polian represents Kuechly’s on-and-off the field mantra perfectly.
A personable player, who provides canny leadership to a hard-working Panthers defense. It makes sense to place him #1 by the importance he brings to the field on every down.
2. Cam Newton
Newton has been a spark plug for this offense since being drafted first overall in 2011.
Newton announced his presence quickly by winning the offensive rookie of the year in 2012, showing the Panthers why they made the right choice for their future.
He has offered great stability and play-making ability, while putting up video game type numbers. In his Panther career, he has thrown for 14,426 yards and 82 touchdowns. Secondly, Newton’s legs and being able to extend plays outside the pocket is just another way he can beat you.
Cam’s presence as a runner is why he’s rushed for 2,571 yards and 33 touchdowns. This is down right amazing, considering the beatings he receives on a week-to-week basis.
It is very apparent that Newton is the soul of the Panthers’ offense and maintaining his health will be Carolina’s top concern all year. Mainly because when he goes, so does Carolina.
3. Thomas Davis
Thomas Davis is entering his 11th season with the Carolina Panthers and has been a great leader for them in the process.
Davis not only has grown up to be one of the more complete linebackers in football, but is an inspiration for everyone that plays the game.
Davis has responded through major adversity by overcoming three ACL tears. And all three of his ACL tears, he’s been able to come back from.
Last season, Davis had 100 tackles and two forced fumbles. For his career, he has 730 tackles, 13 forced fumbles and six interceptions. It seems that even the older he gets, the more milestones he surpasses.
With Davis and Kuechly playing on the field together. This sets up a dominating tandem at the linebacker corps for the Panthers.
4. Kelvin Benjamin
The Carolina Panthers found themselves a star in Kelvin Benjamin drafting him 28th overall in the 2014 draft. Benjamin might have been selected 28th overall, but he became an incumbent force to the Panthers’ receiving core.
Not to mention, Benjamin captured the NFL by storm, as his large-body frame and exceptional hands made him into quarterback Cam Newton’s favorite target right away.
In his 2014 rookie season, Benjamin smashed Panther rookie records for receptions (79), receiving yards (1,008) and touchdowns (9).
Unfortunately, Benjamin suffered a torn ACL in summer camp. While this is a huge blow for the Panthers in the immediate future, it won’t keep Benjamin out long-term. Benjamin’s recovery time is ahead of schedule and his growth back to where he was in his rookie season will be evaluated later.
To say Benjamin means everything to Cam Newton is an understatement. His fantastic body control and speed is a luxury not many young receivers in this league have. Hopefully, by next season, Benjamin will be back stronger than ever and make immediate impact for Carolina’s passing attack.
5. Greg Olsen
Greg Olsen is entering his fifth season with the Carolina Panthers and as of late is the league’s most underrated tight end.
Through the years, he no doubt has become an old and reliable option for quarterback Cam Newton to throw to, whether it’s finding him underneath coverages or streaking down field.
Olsen is coming off his best year as a pro with 84 receptions for 1,008 yards and six touchdowns, that productivity resulted in his first Pro bowl selection. In 2015, it is easy to predict much of the same, especially with the loss of Kelvin Benjamin and the sudden inexperience at the wide receiver position.
This comes at the most important time and could translate into later success for the younger players. Development is key, and Olsen has been one of the best at doing this as a Panther.
6. Jonathan Stewart
Stewart is entering his eighth season with the Panthers; first as the feature back as Deangelo Williams is now with the Steelers.
Stewart is a bruiser when running the ball, his strong legs keep him upright in between the tackles, fighting for every inch. He also is a great pass catcher on-screen passes or if the play breaks down. His knack for extending plays is fabulous.
Stewart often took many short passes and turned them into big gain up the field. A great complement to Newton, who is also a dual threat himself, this combination could be very effective this season.
Last year he rushed for 809 yards and three touchdowns, he also caught a touchdown as well. Now, entering the pinnacle of his football career, Stewart is expected to have a breakout season.
Stewart’s average of 4.6 yds/rush and 30 total touchdowns set up nicely as his role will be the leading ball carrier this season. As a guy who has floated under the radar for many years, it is finally time he takes the next step as the franchise’s premiere tail back.
7. Mike Tolbert
Mike Tolbert is entering his fourth season with the Carolina Panthers and he is not your average fullback.
Tolbert has made a living for the Panthers by catching passes out of the backfield and supplying damage in short yardage situations.
At 5’9″, 250 pounds, Tolbert is the best lead blocker for Carolina’s run game. Last season, Tolbert’s season was cut short due to injury and the running game suffered mightily after that. But now that he is back fully healthy the “Tub of Goo” the name the coaching staff gives him will be back and ready to dominate.
Despite numerous injuries, his career has been very adequate. With 533 rushing attempts for 2,032 yards and 32 touchdowns these are pretty decent numbers for a fullback.
8. Charles Johnson
Charles Johnson is entering his ninth season with the Carolina Panthers and he is one of the most important pieces to their defense.
The biggest tools Johnson provides defensively is his relentless attack and pursuit to the ball. Johnson provides havoc in the opponents’ back fields as well as quarterbacks.
Last season was a solid year, minus the nagging injuries, he manufactured 41 tackles, three forced fumbles and 8.5 sacks. His career long-term is well worth the mileage as he supplemented 267 total tackles, 16 forced fumbles, and 62.5 sacks. He is the heart of Carolina’s pass rush and helps out the secondary in a big way.
Although he isn’t as agile as he once was, Johnson’s effectiveness of dropping back in coverage is still steady.
As long as Johnson can stay relatively healthy, he will have a great year for this vaunted Carolina defense. He honestly could be higher on this list, but with a wide variety of quality players it’s hard to separate them.
9. Ryan Kalil
Ryan Kalil is entering his 10th year with the Panthers and it was important for him to be added onto this list.
A definite “glue guy” over the years to the offensive line, his presence as a veteran establishes immediate protection to the quarterback. His durability and committment to his own health in five of his nine seasons, is reason why he’s started all 16 games, and as a career 103.
Carolina’s offensive line has been a revolving door over the past few years, but with Kalil it has great stability. Since keeping Cam Newton is the biggest concern, making sure he is behind a dependable offensive line is critical.
10. Josh Norman
Josh Norman has established himself into one of the better cover corners in the NFL.
He was drafted in the fifth round out of Coastal Carolina; so far it is safe to say that he was a steal for Carolina. With the exception of Steve Smith, not many players play with the amount of excitement and desire as Norman does.
Norman’s season a year ago was a solid one as he accumulated 48 tackles, forced one fumble, and one interception.
Entering this season, he looks to build on that solid season. Norman, mixed-in with a component of veterans they added this off-season such as Kurt Coleman, Charles Tillman and Roman Harper. Carolina’s secondary appears to be another strength to its defense.
This was a really tough list for me to put together, but this just shows you the quality talent the Carolina Panthers have been able to draft and acquire throughout the years. Not only does the organization have great players, but the depth behind each one is astounding.