Middle Linebacker #1: Luke Kuechly
In three short years, Kuechly has earned a number of awards and accolades as a member of the Carolina Panthers. He was NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year, NFL Defensive Player of the Year, has never finished outside of the Top 5 in tackles and finished first twice. He also was selected to two Pro Bowls and been named twice as a first-team All-Pro.
He was recently ranked 14th in the NFL Top 100 on the NFL Network and is the top ranked linebacker in the NFL. All the recognition he has earned around the league pales in comparison to his importance with the Panthers.
He has never missed a game in his NFL career and is the leader and voice for this defense. Last year could have been his best season yet because of the responsibility he had of trying to keep this defense together.
For most of the first half of the season, the defense was struggling due in large part to the secondary. This didn’t slow down Kuechly and he was still able to play at a high level. They found their way by the end of the season and that should carry into 2015 as long as Kuechly is manning the middle of the field.
Middle Linebacker #2: Jason Trusnik
It still remains to be seen where Jason Trusnik is going to line up in 2015 as he can play inside as well as outside linebacker. Early in his career he bounced between the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns before settling in with the Miami Dolphins the past four seasons. This is where he made a name for himself as a special teams ace and was one of the reasons the Panthers were interested in him this offseason.
Before the team drafted Shaq Thomspon, I thought Trusnik had a chance to start at outside linebacker alongside Kuechly and Thomas Davis. Now it makes sense for him to be the primary backup to Kuechly at middle linebacker and focus his attention on special teams.
Middle Linebacker #3: David Mayo
The Panthers used their first fifth-round pick on Texas State’s linebacker David Mayo. Prior to the draft, he was not a household name due to playing at a smaller school but he is a tackling machine. He finished tied for second in the country with 154 tackles, according to cfbstats.com.
Mayo is a bit of a project and will need some time to develop before he can be expected to play regular snaps at linebacker. Lucky for him he will have a chance to learn the position from one of the best in the game. He should have a chance to make an impact his rookie season though on special teams.
Middle Linebacker #4: Ben Jacobs
The one player who seems to be on the outside looking in is Ben Jacobs due to the additions the organization made this offseason. Last season, Jacobs played in 16 games for the Panthers almost all of which took place on special teams and finished with nine tackles. However, the Panthers made an investment in Trusnik and Mayo and there may not be any roster spots left after those two at middle linebacker.
Brandon Croce is the Lead Publisher for PantherInsider.com. You can find him on Twitter @BrandonCroce.