He wasn’t exactly an overwhelming favorite when he was selected by the Panthers in the first round of the 2012 Draft, but fans quickly realized they had a franchise player for which to build a defense around.
Luke Kuechly was taken ninth overall out of Boston College where he was a tackling machine and the only question was how his game would translate into the professional success. He made a seamless transition and led the league with an eye-popping 165, fifteen more than runner-up NaVorro Brown of the 49ers. The last rookie to top the league in tackles was Patrick Willis in 2007 when he had 174, also for San Francisco.
The 21-year old from Cincinnati was one of the key reasons why Carolina went 4-1 down the stretch recording 59 tackles, 44 solo, in the month of December which would earn him the National Football League’s Defensive Player of the Month making him just the second Panther to be given the award. Julius Peppers was the other in 2002.
Over the final month, Kuechly added one sack, one interception and four passes defensed and he joined the Redskins’ London Fletcher as the only two players in the NFL with at least 50 tackles, a sack and an interception. Quarterback Cam Newton garnered offensive rookie honors.
A favorite for the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Kuechly had at least eight tackles in the final five contests, three with at least 13, including a career best 16 in the Week 14 win over the then once-beaten Falcons and that performance earned him the NFC Defensive Player of the Week.
Kuechly is the first Panthers linebacker to be named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month.