Today, via a heartfelt two minute and eleven second video, Julius Peppers said “Thank You” and goodbye to the game of football.
Julius Peppers has something to say… pic.twitter.com/VKGjFmlWum
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) February 1, 2019
For 17 seasons Peppers played the game at a high level with seemingly little to no drop off. The #2 pick in the 2002 NFL draft didn’t disappoint…ever. And even during stints with the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers, Panthers fans always had love for their Tar Heel son. So now that JP has officially called it quits we can now start discussing his legacy. To me, there’s no question that he’s a first ballot Hall of Famer, but is he currently the best Panther EVER?
There aren’t many former or current players who could even be mentioned in the same breath as Julius Peppers. Cam Newton and Luke Kuechley would obviously be mentioned in this debate, but since they both still have a ways to go before retirement we won’t consider them.
Steve Smith was, and is still, a fan favorite in Charlotte. He gave his all to the Panthers and despite his unceremonious departure, still has love for the franchise. He played over 12 seasons with Carolina and ended his career with over 1000 receptions and nearly 15,000 receiving yards. He was a 5x Pro Bowler, 2x First-Team All-Pro and led the league in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in 2005.
Also, recently retired Ryan Kalil would be on this list. He spent entire career (12 seasons) with Carolina and was the anchor and leader of the offensive line. Kalil was a 5x Pro Bowler and 2x 1st Team All-Pro.
Although not retired, there’s no question Thomas Davis would be on this list. His is an inspiring story of perseverance. Davis led one of the Panthers’ most consistent and most thorough groups…the linebackers. He was a 3x Pro Bowler and 1x All Pro.
The great Reggie White, who is a College Football Hall of Famer, 1st ballot Pro Hall of Famer and holds second place all-time among career sack leaders with 198, spent his final season with the Carolina Panthers.
No list of the greatest Panthers would be complete without Sam Mills – the only player in Carolina’s Ring of Honor and creator and continued inspiration behind the franchise’s “Keep Pounding” mantra.
But will all of these great players Julius Peppers is the best to put on a Carolina uniform. Unlike White and Mills, Peppers was drafted by the Panthers and played most of his career in Carolina. And unlike Smith and Davis, there is no question his place among the best ever. His freakish athleticism defied the odds. He could pass rush or drop back into coverage with the best of them. He is #3 on the NFL All-Time sack list with 159.5, a 9x Pro Bowler, 3x First Team All-Pro, 2002 Defensive Rookie of the Year and member of the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade Team.
Here in Carolina we were fortunate to witness greatness. Now, it’s time for us to acknowledge it.