Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly was named Defensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press on Saturday.
Kuechly, who led the NFL in tackles, is the third Panther to claim the AP honor, joining quarterback Cam Newton (2011) and defensive end Julius Peppers (2002).
Thanks to Kuechly and Newton, the Panthers are only the fourth team to have back-to-back offensive or defensive rookies of the year since the AP started the awards in 1967.
"These honors tonight are individual awards, but football is such a team game that you've got to thank the guys around you," Kuechly said during his acceptance speech at the NFL Honors show Saturday evening in New Orleans. "The D-line plays such an integral part in being a successful linebacker. It's important to give some thanks to them and to the coaches and all the players, and most importantly to my family for making this possible."
The Panthers selected Kuechly out of Boston College with the ninth pick in the 2012 draft. He started all 16 games in his first season – the first four at weakside linebacker before moving to the middle for the remainder of the year after Jon Beason was placed on injured reserve.
"He did it flawlessly. I can't say enough about him," Beason said. "Luke's a great player, and his preparation is what sets him apart. His instincts and football IQ are just through the roof."
Kuechly finished with 164 tackles and had 205 stops according to coaches' review – a franchise record. Kuechly also recorded a sack, two interceptions, three fumble recoveries and eight passes defensed.
"He is a tremendous football player, he really is," head coach Ron Rivera said during the season. "He is everything we thought he would be and more. He has a bright future here with us, and you feel very good about him leading our defense."
Added wide receiver Steve Smith: "Luke just makes plays. He's a young guy who didn't come in entitled. He was real eager to learn. He takes notes. It doesn't surprise me how much success he's having."