(Leading up to the start of free agency on March 14, Panthers.com is looking at the state of each position group.)
POSITION REVIEW: The linebackers are almost taken for granted in this defense, a testament to the unit's success and stability. That was the case again in 2017, when Luke Kuechly was selected to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl while Thomas Davis made his third consecutive Pro Bowl trip (this time as an injury replacement). Shaq Thompson continued his steady growth, but Kuechly and Davis continued to rule the roost. Kuechly has the most tackles by any NFL player and most interceptions by any linebacker since being drafted in 2012, and Davis is second in interceptions over the same period while missing just three games since suffering his torn right anterior cruciate ligament in 2011.
STATS OF SIGNIFICANCE: Davis will enter the season as the franchise's all-time leader with 1,174 career tackles, and he's fifth among active NFL players in career tackles – with 1,015. How can that be? Because tackles aren't an official stat, so the "press box" numbers (in this case, 1,015) are used when comparing players around the league, while most teams tabulate their own tackle totals after reviewing game tape (thus the 1,174).
WORTH WATCHING AGAIN: Kuechly's nose for the football was outdone only by his nose for the end zone when, in Week 12, he came out of nowhere and turned Wes Horton's strip-sack into a 34-yard touchdown that gave the Panthers a fourth-quarter lead they wouldn't relinquish to the Jets.
TOP OFFSEASON STORYLINES: Davis has said that 2018 will be his final season, making the announcement in January shortly after telling reporters he expected to have a reduced role. It will be interesting (again) this year to see how Thompson is utilized in the final year of his rookie contract (the Panthers have until May 3 to exercise the fifth-year option). If the plan is for him to flat-out replace Davis in 2019, then how will the two be used alongside Kuechly in 2018?
HOPE FOR 2018: At such a productive position, more of the same would be a good place to start, but that could require more from Thompson. Last season took a physical toll on Davis and that could be the case again next season. Hopefully not, but regardless Thompson will want to prove that he's ready to take over.
David Mayo proved he can provide quality depth last season, but Carolina could still use a later-round draft choice on a linebacker. The Panthers surely will if a bargain of a talent is available (same goes for free agency) because you can never have enough quality depth and because linebacker is an important position when it comes to fielding successful special teams units.
View photos of the linebackers in action during the 2017 season.