To the surprise of absolutely no one Carolina Panthers’ linebacker Luke Kuechly was named the Associated Press NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Saturday night. He joins Julius Peppers as the only other Carolina defender to win the award. Kuechly played at Saint Xavier High School.
It is the second year in a row that a Panthers’ player took home a first year award as quarterback Cam Newton came away as the league’s best offensive rookie.
While not being an official stat kept by the NFL, Kuechly set a franchise record with 205 tackles, surpassing James Anderson’s 174 set in 2011, and became the first rookie to lead the NFL in that department since Patrick Willis in 2007.
Kuechly produced two of the top three single-game tackle performances in team history in 2012, including a career-high 19 stops in Carolina’s Week Fourteen victory over division rival Atlanta. Only Anderson had more in a game with 20 against the Giants on September 20.
Kuechly started all 16 games, 12 of them at his more natural middle linebacker position after moving there in Week 5 because of the injury to Jon Beason. He was one of the keys to the Panthers rise in defensive rankings jumping 18 spots to the league’s tenth best.
The Boston College alum was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for Week Fourteen and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for December. In addition to his tackling numbers, Kuechly had one sack, two interceptions, five passes defensed and three fumble recoveries.