Gone from the NFL are Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, with the former retiring after winning the Super Bowl in February and the latter hanging them up in May.
It’s Luke Kuechly‘s league now.
The second-year linebacker, who was the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012 after leading the Carolina Panthers in tackles (164) while recording a sack and two interceptions, is bringing the same mentality that Lewis and Urlacher brought to their squads during their Hall of Fame careers, and that should translate into the Panthers having a top-10 defense in 2013.
With defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, defensive tackles Dwan Edwards and Star Lotulelei and linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis joining Kuechly, the team that had one of the most underrated front-sevens in football should be even better, with the defense’s total success largely hinging on what the secondary is able to do.
If the preseason is any indication, it’ll do just fine.
Just look at the work of 25-year-old cornerback Josh Norman, who wasn’t even projected to be a starter but has likely earned himself increased playing time thanks to three interceptions in three games, including a two-pick night in the teams’ preseason opener on Aug. 9.
Add in hard-hitting safety Chris Godfrey, who has a solid backup in Haruki Nakamura and 32-year-old cornerback Drayton Florence, and it’s clear that the squad has quite a blend of youngsters and veterans.
But let’s get back to the Panthers’ defensive leader, the man known to his teammates as “Uncle Luke” (and he certainly makes opposing offenses want to cry uncle), who got a rare chance to shine in the national spotlight when he led the Panthers to a 34-27 win over the Ravens on Thursday’s special presentation of ESPN Monday Night Football.
Kuechly had seven tackles, a forced fumble and an interception in the win, leading a team that scored all of its points via defense and special teams past the defending Super Bowl champions. With him setting the example for the rest of the D to follow, there’s no reason not to put the Panthers in the upper echelon of fantasy defenses.