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Carolina Panthers All-Time Starting Defense

2019 will mark the Carolina Panthers’ 25th season as a member of the NFL. Which defensive players have been the best in franchise history.
Panthers All-Time Starting Defense

2019 will mark the Carolina Panthers’ 25th season as a member of the NFL. Over the past quarter-century, the team has boasted countless stars, fan-favorites and legendary greats. With that being said, below is the franchise’s all-time starting defense. Based on the Panthers’ primary use of a 4-3 scheme in the past, the lineup will consist of four linemen, three linebackers and four defensive backs. Be sure to also see the Panthers’ all-time starting offense.

Panthers All-Time Starting Defense

Defensive End: Julius Peppers

Following two stints and ten seasons with the Panthers, Julius Peppers is without question the franchise’s best defensive player ever. Peppers recorded 97 sacks in black and blue and forced more than 30 fumbles, both of which are by far team records. Over his entire career, he racked up 159.5 sacks, which ranks fourth in NFL history. Peppers also ranks second all-time in tackles for loss. 

The former second-overall pick out of North Carolina made nine Pro Bowls, three first-team All-Pro teams, and was the 2002 Defensive Rookie of the Year. Aside from Cam Newton and Steve Smith, Peppers is likely the most talented and influential player–on and off the field–that the franchise has ever seen.

Defensive Tackle: Kawann Short

Despite being overshadowed by Star Lotulelei in the 2013 draft, Kawann Short has emerged as the best interior defensive lineman from that year’s class. In only six seasons, Short has already recorded more sacks than any other defensive tackle in team history, posting 32.5. His 58 tackles for loss also rank first among Panthers defensive tackles. Short’s most dominant season came in 2015 when he piled up 11 sacks en route to leading the Panthers to their second Super Bowl appearance. At only 30 years old, Short has a chance to not only build on his Panthers legacy but also create a legacy as one of the best defensive linemen in this era.

Defensive Tackle: Kris Jenkins

Taken in the second round by the Panthers in 2001, Kris Jenkins went on to become a key cog up the middle for the next seven seasons. In only his second season, Jenkins was named to the Pro Bowl as well as a first-team All-Pro. He was just as dominant in his third NFL season in 2003 as a key piece of the Panthers’ Super Bowl defense. Jenkins’ 17.0 sacks with the team rank second in franchise history among defensive tackles, and he also is the team’s all-time leader in tackles at his position. Prior to the 2008 season, Jenkins was traded to the New York Jets for a third and fifth-round pick. The third-round choice ended up producing another all-time starter in Charles Godfrey.

Defensive End: Mike Rucker

Given a slight edge over Charles JohnsonMike Rucker earns the second defensive end spot on this roster. Rucker spent all nine of his NFL seasons with Carolina and is currently third all-time in both sacks and tackles for loss as a Panther. Rucker’s most dominant stretch came from 2001-2003, where he sacked the quarterback 31 times, forced 8 fumbles, recorded 14 passes defensed. He made the Pro Bowl for the only time in his career in 2003 when the Panthers went to Super Bowl XXXVIII. Rucker continues to give back to Charlotte through charitable efforts, as well as working as a commentator on the Panthers Television Network.

Outside Linebacker: Thomas Davis

No defensive player has ever played more games for the Panthers than Thomas Davis. In 13 seasons with the team, Davis racked up over 1,110 tackles, 18 forced fumbles and 87 tackles for loss. For years, he was regarded as the “heart and soul” of the Carolina defense. On top of his stellar on-field performance and leadership, Davis remained committed to the team, becoming the first-known player to ever return from three ACL tears in the same knee. 

During the mid-to-late portion of his Panthers tenure, Davis firmly entrenched himself as a leader and star of this current era of Panthers football. Respected around the league for his integrity, toughness, and ability, Davis is certainly one of the biggest fan-favorites and most influential players in franchise history.

Middle Linebacker: Luke Kuechly

After being selected ninth overall by the Panthers in 2012, Luke Kuechly has been one of, if not the best, middle linebackers in all of football. He has led the league in tackles on two separate occasions and already ranks eighty-third all-time in career tackles. Kuechly has been named to the Pro Bowl in six straight seasons and has earned All-Pro honors in five of the past six years. At only 28, the 2013 AP Defensive Player of the Year has already become the best linebacker in Panthers history and has an opportunity to become one of the best ever. Barring injury, Kuechly will continue to climb leaderboards and break records for years to come, and when all is said and done, he should become a Hall of Famer.

Outside Linebacker: Kevin Greene

Often forgotten by today’s Panthers fans, Kevin Greene was nearly unblockable in two stints with Carolina. In only three seasons with the organization, Greene tallied 41.5 sacks and led the Panthers in that particular statistic all three years. Greene made two Pro Bowls with Carolina and was once named an All-Pro while with the team. He ranks fifth all-time in franchise history in sacks. He was part of the Panthers’ 1996 season, in which the team finished second in team defense, won its first division title and earned its first postseason victory. Greene is one of two former Panthers to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as he was inducted in 2016.

Cornerback: Chris Gamble

As a first-round choice in 2004, Chris Gamble made an immediate splash in the Panthers defense his rookie year. He picked off six passes, batted 14 balls and racked up 74 tackles. All total, Gamble either led or tied for the team lead in interceptions six times over nine seasons with Carolina. Gamble was so good that he is the franchise’s all-time leader in interceptions, as well as in tackles among cornerbacks. Two times he finished in the top-six in interceptions, and his 98 passes defended rank in the top-sixty all-time. Although Gamble never made any Pro Bowls or got any major recognition, he was consistently a ball-hawking corner for the Panthers, and his on-field performance qualifies him as the organization’s best cornerback to date.

Cornerback: Josh Norman

Despite a wildly inconsistent first few seasons with the Panthers that led to multiple benchings, Josh Norman burst onto the scene with a dominant 2015 season. During that magical 15-1 season, Norman intercepted four passes, forced three fumbles and recorded two pick-sixes. He was so dominant that opposing quarterbacks often opted not to throw his direction, and when they did, they found little success.

Throughout 2015, he allowed one of the lowest passer ratings when targeted, and was a huge reason for the Panthers’ Super Bowl run. While players such as Eric Davis, Richard Marshalland Ken Lucas are also deserving of this roster spot, none of them had a season quite as Norman had in 2015. Unfortunately for Norman and the Panthers, 2015 would be his last in Carolina.

Free Safety: Charles Godfrey

As noted earlier, Charles Godfrey was drafted by Carolina in the third round in the 2008 draft and earned a spot on the all-time team. Godfrey spent his first seven NFL seasons with the Panthers, where he intercepted 11 passes, knocked away 33 more, and forced seven fumbles. Being a safety who could effectively defend the run as well as the pass, he was a player the Panthers knew they could depend on, as he was a key part of the Carolina defense for several seasons. Godfrey places second among safeties in team history in both interceptions and total tackles.

Strong Safety: Mike Minter

A life-long Panther, Mike Minter spent his entire ten-year NFL career with Carolina, and over that span, he almost never missed a game. Minter leads all safeties in career interceptions, passes defensed, total tackles, tackles for loss and sacks while with the franchise. Known for being a physical defender and sure tackler, Minter served as a reliable veteran presence both on and off the field for a decade and continues to do so as the head coach of Campbell University’s football team, which is just north of Charlotte. Throughout and following his career, Minter made himself perhaps the team’s most important defensive back of all-time.

SEE ALSO: Carolina Panthers All-Time Starting Offense

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