Looking back, some of the largest icons in NFL history are often the ones that can be overlooked. All franchises have had their fair share of historic players, but who were the best of the best? Here, we discuss the four most iconic players to step on the field. We continue our series with the Carolina Panthers:
Honorable Mentions: Thomas Davis, Sam Mills, Greg Olsen, Jordan Gross
Luke Kuechly (2012-19)
After an abrupt retirement due to health concerns, it ended an eight-year career for one of the best players in franchise history. After being drafted in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Kuechly made an immediate impact with the Panthers.
During his rookie season, Kuechly was honored with Defensive Rookie of the Year. The following season, he earned Defensive Player of the Year. As a part of Pro Football Focus’ top-101 players of the 2010’s and the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 2010’s, Kuechly’s presence on defense cannot be understated. In eight seasons, he totaled five All-Pro nominations.
Cam Newton (2011-Current)
As the top selection in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Auburn product revolutionized the quarterback position. Just four years into his career, Newton put on a stellar MVP season that catapulted the Panthers into the Super Bowl.
However, injuries and critiques forced Newton to play in New England during the 2020 season. Despite the roller coaster career with Carolina, his abilities as a dual-threat quarterback made him one of the most electric players in franchise history.
Steve Smith Sr (2001-16)
He was a mid-round selection in the 2001 NFL Draft, but Steve Smith was one of the most influential players in franchise history. His energy on the field makes him a valuable candidate for the Hall of Fame as well.
Along his NFL journey, Smith secured a Pro Bowl nomination, All-Pro honor, and Comeback Player of the Year award. His 2005 season resulted in a league high 103 receptions, 1,563 receiving yards, and 12 touchdowns.
Julius Peppers (2002-18)
In the first round of the 2002 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers selected Peppers in hopes of changing their fortunes on defense. Despite spending time with rivals such as the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers over the course of his career, he was one of the most prolific talents in franchise history.
Peppers finished his career with nine Pro Bowls, as well as three All-Pro nominations. He was named to the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 2000’s and 2010’s. His career stats include 159.5 sacks, 51 forced fumbles, and 11 defensive touchdowns.