The NFL announced the news via Twitter:
The 22-year-old middle linebacker, who earned his first-ever Pro Bowl nod this year, finished the regular season with 156 combined tackles, two sacks and four interceptions. Kuechly was the driving force behind the Panthers' second-ranked defense, which held regular-season opponents to 301.3 yards and 15.1 points per game.
Kuechly is surely overjoyed to receive the high honor considering how thrilled he was to be voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time on Dec. 27, per Panthers.com's Max Henson:
It's an honor to be selected to the Pro Bowl. I've grown up watching the games at the end of the season, and it's awesome to have a chance to be a part of it. I would like to thank the players, coaches and fans who voted for me. Our defense has played great this year and made this possible.
One such observer who marveled at Kuechly's exploits is tennis star and die-hard Panthers fan John Isner:
Kuechly's impressive play and improved leadership also helped the Panthers win the NFC South for the first time since 2008. Thanks to one of the most opportunistice defenses in football—the Kuechly-led Panthers were also one of only nine teams to record at least 30 takeaways in 2013—Carolina overcame a 1-3 start and finished 12-4 in 2013. As a result, the Panthers locked up the No. 2 seed in the NFC and a first-round bye.
You could argue that Kuechly's stellar performance in Week 16's colossal win over New Orleans was what ultimately won him the coveted individual honor. The former Boston College star recorded a career-high 24 combined tackles and intercepted Drew Brees in a game the Panthers had to have in order to win the division.
Kuechly can add the 2013 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award to his growing list of achievements, which includes the 2012 AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.
Selected ninth overall by the Panthers in the 2012 NFL draft, Kuechly has not missed a game in his young career and has recorded at least three combined tackles in every regular-season appearance thus far.
Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter.