CHARLOTTE – Since entering the NFL in 2012, linebacker Luke Kuechly's name has never strayed too far from the top of the league's total tackles chart.
Twice Kuechly has topped that list at the end of the season, and so far, he's holding down the top spot again with 56 tackles through five games. Kuechly also just recently became the first player to reach 1,000 tackles in his first eight seasons.
But Kuechly isn't the only Panther in the top 10 right now.
Nipping at Kuechly's heels is fifth-year linebacker Shaq Thompson, who ranks sixth in the league with 49 tackles. Each year, Thompson's tackle total has increased, and this year he's already on pace to nearly double his career-high of 79 tackles.
"He's not going anywhere, either," Kuechly said of Thompson. "He's been all over the place making tackles and he's done a really good job. It's something that hasn't surprised me. I don't think it's surprised anybody within the organization."
Kuechly credits Thompson's increased production to his flexibility within the defense, allowing him to shift between inside and outside linebacker, as well as big nickel.
"He can do everything," Kuechly said. "To have a guy with his skillset, his athletic ability, his ability to cover, and you mix it with a guy that is as smart and intelligent, understands football as well as he does, you've got a special guy."
What makes Thompson even more special, at least according to Kuechly, is how selfless he is. Most first-round picks wouldn't be too thrilled having to play a somewhat limited role for four years as he learned behind former Carolina captain Thomas Davis, but not Thompson.
"He never made a peep about it, never complained about it," Kuechly said. "Just went out there and did whatever he could to help the team win."
"All the success he's having now is warranted and he deserves it 100 percent."