Carolina Panthers: Trio deserving of PFF top-101 list of decade

There was some good news for three former Carolina Panthers’ stars, who were recognized for their outstanding efforts with the franchise.

There is no doubt that the Carolina Panthers have had some incredible players over the last decade. The franchise might not have been able to secure a Super Bowl during this time period. But there are plenty of individuals who will go down in team folklore for their respective contributions.

In a recent Pro Football Focus article listed the top 101 players over the last decade, three former Carolina Panthers stars were featured. Legendary linebacker Luke Kuechly and tight end Greg Olsen both made the list. But neither is now with the organization after leaving for very different reasons during a busy offseason.

Another to make the prestigious rankings was Jordan Gross, a sensational offensive tackle who secured one first-team All-Pro selection in 2008 and made three Pro Bowls.

Kuechly was the highest-ranked of the three at No. 10 following a standout seven-year career that saw him emerge as one of the NFL’s greatest ever middle linebackers. He leaves a substantial void in Carolina heading into 2020 after his shock retirement announcement due to health concerns.

Sam Monson of PFF had this to say on Kuechly’s level of performance during the decade.

“PFF’s work deals a lot in percentiles, ranking players against the rest of their peers according to what percentage of them they are above or better than. For his career, Luke Kuechly effectively became the 100th percentile. He had a run of five seasons with an overall PFF grade above 90.0, and his 2015 season is the highest single-season grade PFF gave to a linebacker over the decade. For his career, Kuechly allowed a passer rating of just 86.0 when targeted in coverage, around 20 points lower than the average pass that targets a linebacker.”

Although Gross retired in 2013, it is a testament to his overall influence in protection that he comes in at No. 73 on the list despite not playing that much during the decade. He was a supreme left tackle for the Panthers and someone that possibly deserved more individual accolades during his career.

“Jordan Gross retired after the 2013 season and now looks a far cry from one of the most dominant offensive linemen of his generation. Still, it speaks to his quality that just a few years from him to begin the decade was enough to see him rank this highly on the list. Gross had an overall PFF grade north of 75.0 every season we graded him, and actually signed off on top, with the second-best grade of his career. He was a stalwart at left tackle for the Panthers and a better player than his career accolades would suggest.”

Further down the list is Olsen, who ranks at No. 81 following an incredible career to date. The tight end quickly emerged as one of the most reliable pass-catching players at the position and was a formidable red zone target during his time with the Panthers.

His lengthy spell in Carolina ended in free agency when Olsen departed in favor of a move to the Seattle Seahawks on a one-year deal worth $5.5 million guaranteed. How Ian Thomas steps in to replace him is going to do a long way to determining just what sort of success Carolina is going to have in 2020.

“One of the best receiving tight ends of his generation, Greg Olsen is still going despite being drafted all the way back in 2007. Olsen dropped just 27 passes in the decade, or less than 5% of the catchable targets thrown his way. He was also consistently one of the most open receivers in the game, giving his quarterback an attractive place to go with the football more often than not. Olsen’s blocking was never at the level of players like Rob Gronkowski, but it was less a weakness earlier in the decade than it became later in his career.”

One notable omission from the list is Cam Newton. It seems odd that the 2015 NFL MVP should not be considered among the best 101 players of the decade, But a series of injuries did not do his chances any good.

 

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