NFC South Top 25: No. 9

We continue my NFC South Top 25 with No. 9:

Luke Kuechly, middle linebacker, Panthers

What he did in 2012: He led the NFL with 164 tackles. Kuechly also produced one sack and two interceptions while earning the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

Why he’s No. 9 in 2013: Kuechly’s rookie season was only a sample of what he can do. He didn’t even get to play in the middle until Jon Beason went down with a season-ending injury. Once he got settled in the middle, Kuechly showed he’s a sideline-to-sideline player and a tackling machine. All that came without a lot of help in front of him. But the Panthers imported help for Kuechly by drafting defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short with their first two picks in this year’s draft. Lotulelei and Short are going to command a lot of attention from guards and centers. That means Kuechly will be free to roam and that’s not good news for opposing offenses.

For previous entries in the NFC South top 25, click here.