Just one season after being named the Defensive Rookie of the Year, the Carolina Panthers' Luke Kuechly has been named the 2013-14 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
The former first-round pick exceeded even the most lofty of expectations in his second season as he collected 156 total tackles, two sacks, seven passes defensed and four interceptions. His ability to both stuff the run and excel in coverage allowed him to play a pivotal role in one of the NFL's top defenses.
The Panthers finished with the NFL's second-ranked defense, holding opposing teams to 301.3 yards per game and just 15.1 points per game. They also led the way for one of the better turnarounds in the league as the Panthers went from 7-9 in 2012 to 12-4 in 2013.
Kuechly was certainly deserving of the award, but he didn't win by a landslide. The field was full of worthy competitors, and the voting reflected that. Here's a look at the full results, via NFL.com:
|NFL Defensive Player of the Year Voting|
|Player||Position||No. of votes|
|Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers||LB||13|
|Robert Mathis, Indianapolis Colts||LB||11.5|
|Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks||S||7.5|
|Robert Quinn, St. Louis Rams||DE||6|
|Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks||CB||4|
|J.J. Watt, Houston Texans||DE||2|
Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis came in second just 1.5 votes behind Kuechly. The 32-year-old pass-rusher earned his sixth consecutive Pro Bowl trip on the strength of his 19.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles.
Mathis wasn't bitter that he wasn't able to get the award this year, though. According to Will Brinson of CBS Sports, Mathis was very complimentary of the man who edged him out for the trophy:
Other notables on the ballot were Seattle Seahawks standouts Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas. Thomas earned All-Pro honors for the second season in a row with 105 tackles and five interceptions, while Sherman notched his second consecutive season with eight interceptions.
Rounding out the field was defending defensive player of the year J.J. Watt. Despite another stellar year from the defensive end, the Texans' 2-14 record went a long way in reducing any chance the lineman had at repeating the feat this season.
The award marks an incredible start for Kuechly's career. At just 22 years old, Kuechly is actually younger than Sheldon Richardson, who won this year's Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. With the Rookie of the Year Award and now this award on his mantel, the linebacker is primed to be one of the NFL's marquee defenders for the foreseeable future.