For the first time since 2012, the Carolina Panthers will be heading into a new season without star linebacker Luke Kuechly suiting up.
Over the last eight seasons, Kuechly was not only the Panthers' best defensive player, but he was the unit's leader. Players gravitated to him and respected the amount of knowledge he had about the game. There's no question that replacing Kuechly is darn near impossible, but who will be the new leader of the Panthers defense? My guess? Shaq Thompson.
Thompson returns as the most experienced defensive player in the Panthers organization aside from Kawann Short. He had the benefit of playing next to Luke Kuechly for his first five seasons of his career and is now ready to take over as "the guy".
First and foremost, to have leadership status, the rest of the team has to believe in you and trust what you say. In addition to that, a leader has to be someone that players gravitate to. Recently, Thompson was a part of the "Justice Walk" in Charlotte with a few of his teammates peacefully protesting against police brutality. Someone who is willing to stand up and be an advocate for change will certainly win over a locker room.
On the field, Thompson's limit is through the roof. In 2019, he finished the season with 109 tackles, which ranked him 30th in the NFL. Imagine if Luke Kuechly didn't eat up 144 tackles. Thompson could have posted even more impressive numbers. Now that Kuechly is no longer going to be suiting up, Thompson can take over not only as the Panthers defensive leader, but as the new tackling machine. He has seen his total number of tackles significantly climb year after year and has continued to live in the opponent's backfield. Whether it be via a quarterback hit or tackle for loss - he's doing damage.
Who do you think will be the new face of the Carolina Panthers defense? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!
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