2014 Stats: 153 total tackles, 3 sacks, 11 passes defended, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
Best Game: Week 5 versus Chicago
Notes: There is no question that Luke Kuechly is the Panthers’ best defensive player and leader. He has even made a strong case to be considered the best linebacker in the NFL. For the second time in the past three years, Kuechly led the NFL in tackles and was one of two Carolina Panthers selected to the Pro Bowl this season. The reason that Kuechly is such a special player is because he can do it all from stopping running plays in the back field to dropping into coverage and breaking up passes.
Final Grade: A+
2014 Stats: 100 total tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 3 passes defended
Best Game: Week 11 versus Atlanta
Notes: It is really remarkable with the injuries Thomas Davis has suffered (three ACL injuries) that he is able to play at the level he does. Unfortunately the outside linebacker position has become considered more of a pass-rusher type position and Davis doesn’t necessarily get the credit he deserves. The 10-year veteran is exceptional against the run and this year marks the third consecutive season with at least 100 tackles. The combination of Kuechly and Davis makes it very difficult on opposing running backs and offenses in general.
Final Grade: A+
2014 Stats: 12 total tackles, 1 forced fumble
Best Game: Week 17 at Atlanta
Notes: For a majority of the season, the Panthers decided to work out of the nickel formation which meant the defense only had two linebackers on the field (Kuechly and Davis). However, once Klein went down with an injury later in the season it opened the door for rookie Adarius Glanton to get some playing time next to the Panthers’ two star linebackers. The rookie’s play of the year came in Week 17 when he forced a fumble that was recovered by Davis that helped open the lead up for the Panthers.
Final Grade: B-
2014 Stats: 39 total tackles, 2 forced fumbles
Best Game: Week 7 at Green Bay
Notes: A.J. Klein was the Panthers’ starting weakside linebacker for a majority of the season but like Glanton did not get much playing time due to the Panthers primarily playing out of the nickel defense. There was actually only two games out of 15 that he played more than 50% of the team’s snaps (Week 4 at Baltimore, Week 15 vs. Tampa Bay). One key offseason battle worth watching will be between Klein and Glanton if the Panthers don’t decide to bring in another player at the position in free agency of the draft.