Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly has been named the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The 22-year-old middle linebacker came out ahead of a wide-open field of candidates to claim his second major award in only his second season in the NFL.
Kuechly won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 2012 and topped that with a stellar 2013 in which he earned his first Pro Bowl appearance. The former Boston College player had 156 combined tackles this season -- 93 total, 63 assisted -- to go with two sacks and four interceptions.
He also had one of the greatest single game performances by a defender in NFL history on Dec. 22 against the New Orleans Saints. Kuechly made 24 tackles, which nearly tied the NFL single-game record of 25 set by Brian Urlacher in 2006. While it's important to note the stat has only be recorded since the 2000 season, it's still extremely impressive.
Kuechly's play was a big part of the Panthers' success in 2013 as he helped lead a defense that was second in the NFL in both total defense and scoring defense. He was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Week three times in 2013 -- breaking Julius Peppers' team record of two awards in a season -- and led the Panthers in tackles and interceptions.
More importantly, Carolina made the playoffs for the first time since 2008. While the Panthers lost 23-10 to the 49ers in the Divisional round of the playoffs, Kuechly performed well with seven tackles and a sack in his postseason debut.
There's a legitimate case to made that the second-year linebacker was the team's MVP, which is impressive considering quarterback Cam Newton was in the league MVP discussion. Both were taken in back-to-back drafts in the first round and are the faces of their respective units. While Newton is the literal quarterback of the offense, Kuechley certainly served as the lead man on defense.
Kuechly beat out the likes of Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, Rams defensive end Robert Quinn and Colts linebacker Robert Mathis for the Defensive Player of the Year award. Sherman led the league with eight interceptions, while Quinn and Mathis were at the top of the sack list with 19 and 19.5, respectively.