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With 164 total tackles on the year, Kuechly was the first rookie to lead the league in tackles since Patrick Willis did so for the San Francisco 49ers in 2007. The Panthers took Kuechly ninth overall in the 2012 draft and he was the first linebacker to go off the board. Kuechly played three years at Boston College but finished as the school and the ACC's leader in career tackles with 532. During his final college season in 2011, he racked up 191 tackles, averaging almost 16 a game.
His prolific tackling ways carried over almost immediately once he moved to middle linebacker. Kuechly started the season as the weak side linebacker and only had 26 tackles through the first four games of the season. After Jon Beason was injured, the Panthers slid Kuechly into middle linebacker and he took off.
From Week 5 to Week 11 he hit double-digit tackles in each game and finished the year with just as much force on the field -- through the month of December, he averaged 11.8 tackles a game.
Kuechly wasn't just a one-trick pony, however, he defended quite well against the pass. Of all the players in the NFL who recorded at least 120 tackles, only three players had more than Kuechly's eight passes defended. In that same group, only three players also had more interceptions than his two.
Only one other Panther has won the award, way back in 2002 when Julius Peppers took home the honors.
Kuechly beat out a pretty talented group of rookies. Green Bay Packers cornerback Casey Hayward was the choice for many leading up to the actual vote itself. St. Louis Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins had a solid case with four interceptions and four touchdowns this year. Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner was an essential part of one of the league's best defenses this year.