Best Panthers Players Of All Time: Top 5 Football Legends, According To Experts

The Carolina Panthers began playing in the National Football League (NFL) in 1995. The Panthers were one of two expansion teams that year, joining the Jacksonville Jaguars. This also made them one of the first expansion teams to play in the NFL since 1976. The Panthers have been to two Super Bowls since the team’s inception, and although they haven’t won the big game, the team has had some all-time great football players come through the organization. So, who are the best Panthers players of all time? 

Before we dive into the consensus list of the best players in Panthers franchise history, let’s take a moment to appreciate the dedication of sports fans. A study finds that the average sports fan is actually willing to travel and spend good money to see their favorite team play in person. A survey of 2,000 self-identified sports fanatics examined the lengths people are willing to go to in order to watch their favorite sports team play in person, and the results were somewhat surprising. The survey found that the average fan is willing to travel a whopping five hours and 48 minutes plus spend $762.20 on tickets to see their favorite team play live. 

If this isn’t enough proof that sports fans are overly dedicated to their teams, perhaps you’ll be interested to learn that another study found that sports fans are willing to end friendships over sports. A survey of 2,000 American football fans found that a staggering 52 percent of respondents are willing to call it quits with a friend because that person cheers for a rival football team. Furthermore, sports fans report it takes an average of three days to get over their favorite team’s loss. Now that’s some serious dedication. 

So, which players do die-hard Panthers fans consider the greatest in franchise history? StudyFinds did the research, consulting 10 sports and football-related websites in an effort to bring you a consensus list of the best Panthers players of all time. Our list comprises the five most frequently listed athletes from across these sites. Think your favorite Panthers player was snubbed? Feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments section below! 

Football on a turf field
Football (Photo by Dave Adamson on Unsplash)

The List: Best Panthers Players, According to Fans

1. Cam Newton

Topping the list of the best Panthers players of all time is none other than quarterback Cam Newton. He was the first overall draft pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2011, and he’s easily the best signal caller the team has ever had. “Selected with the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Newton shined right off the bat. In his first professional game, the 6-foot-5-inch QB threw for 422 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. He rushed eight times for 18 yards and a TD. While the Panthers lost the contest, Newton managed to leave his mark—becoming the first rookie to throw for 400+ yards in a game—and provided fans with a glimpse of his sky-high potential,” writes Clutch Points

Newton only continued to get better and better after his record-breaking rookie season. Newton quickly became the face of the franchise and regularly had his Panthers in playoff contention. Although Newton couldn’t follow up his MVP season with a Super Bowl victory over the legendary Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, Newton’s impact on the franchise is unmatched. “No one, in the 25 years of Panthers football, has helped shape the franchise more than Newton. He’s the first and only Panthers player to be named NFL MVP, having led Carolina to the Super Bowl after the 2015 season… He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2011, 2013, and 2015, a season in which he earned All-Pro honors,” furthers Panthers Wire

Newton’s 2015 MVP season was one of the most electrifying performances Carolina sports fans have ever seen. Newton was a large quarterback who had no problem running over defenders, jumping over the line of scrimmage, or even doing backflips into the endzone for big scores. He’s easily one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks the NFL has ever seen, and some might even say Newton is the best running quarterback of all time.

Regardless of the titles, Newton gave his all every time he put on a Panthers uniform. “Cam Newton helped mold the franchise and bring relevancy to a city that’s known just as a banking capital. Some of his accolades include MVP, ’15 Offensive POY, ROY, 3x Pro-bowler and First Team All-Pro. Cam is still adding to his rushing TD’s record held by a quarterback (70), which is currently the most all-time by someone at the position. Cam has thrown for over 31,000 yards, including 190 passing touchdowns, and rushed for over 5,000 yards – making him one of the most dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks of all time,” adds Carolina Blitz

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2. Julius Peppers

Julius Peppers was one of the most dynamic pass rushers in NFL history, and he’s going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. “A true Carolina kid as Peppers played collegiate football and basketball at North Carolina. He was drafted at No. 2 to the Panthers in 2002 as the defensive end had a 6’7, 295 lb frame. Peppers immediately made a difference in his rookie year with 12 sacks and 11 tackles for loss, earning him DROY. Peppers was a model of consistency as he eclipsed 10+ sacks for six years in his first 8-year stint in Carolina. During that time, Peppers became a 5-time Pro Bowler and 2-time First Team All-Pro. In 2006, Peppers led the league in tackles for loss with 18 while also having a 13-sack season,” explains Last Word on Sports

Although he excelled in basketball with a height of 6 feet 7 inches, Peppers was a star on the football field, and football was easily his best sport. Peppers was a pure pass rusher and his defensive stats validate his skills. “Peppers would become the Defensive Captain in 2007, which he would follow up with a career-high 14.5 Quarterback Sacks in 2008. He would have seven double-digit seasons in Sacks, and in 2004 he would lead the NFL in Tackles for Loss. He would sign with the Chicago Bears and played there for four years and then another three with the Green Bay Packers. Peppers would come back to the Panthers for the last two seasons of his career, and when it was all said and done, he would tabulate 97.0 quarterback sacks and 107 quarterback hits for the organization,” furthers Not in Hall of Fame

It’s safe to say that Peppers is one of the top athletes in the history of the great state of North Carolina. “Prior to Cam Newton’s arrival, the biggest idol in the Panthers fanbase was Julius Peppers. Born and raised in the Raleigh area, Peppers played at the University of North Carolina… Throughout his NFL career, Peppers was one of the scariest defensive ends in football, accumulating 159.5 sacks, which is fourth in the NFL all-time rankings,” adds Rookie Road

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3. Steve Smith

The third spot on the list of the best players in Panthers franchise history is held by legendary wide receiver, Steve Smith. He did it all for the Carolina Panthers, he was an excellent receiver and also one of the best kick returners the team has ever had. “Always an explosive player, Smith ranks eighth all-time in NFL history with just under 15,000 receiving yards. He remains the Panthers’ all-time receiving leader in every major statistic, and was also the team’s greatest return man,” writes Charlotte Stories

Smith burst onto the scene during the Panthers’ first Super Bowl run in the 2003 NFL season. The Panthers fell to Tom Brady and the Patriots in the Super Bowl that season, but the team wouldn’t have been in that game without Smith’s game-winning touchdown reception against the St. Louis Rams in a double-overtime divisional playoff game. Smith’s big playoff performance signaled his arrival as one of the NFL’s best receiving deep threats. 

“Arguably one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, Steve Smith Sr.’s 13 seasons with the Panthers solidifies his place at the top of the list. A late-round pick in the 2001 draft, Smith quickly made a name for himself, becoming the NFL leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in 2005. Smith made five Pro Bowls and holds the franchise record for total touchdowns (67), receptions (836) and receiving yards (12,197),” adds Fox News

Smith would certainly qualify as a “steal” in the 2001 NFL Draft as he fell all the way to the third round. Smith worked hard to forge a spot on the Panthers’ depth chart, and when given the opportunity, Smith emerged as one of the league’s top receivers.

Smith could run deep routes for big plays or take a short screen pass and turn it into a touchdown, making him a true nightmare for opposing defenses. He “proved that greatness can emerge from unexpected places. Initially showcased as a return specialist, Smith electrified the field with his explosive speed and elusive moves. Transitioning to a receiver role, he astounded fans and opponents alike, becoming the team’s all-time leader in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. With five Pro Bowl selections and two first-team All-Pro honors, Smith etched his name in Panthers history as a dynamic and unstoppable force,” furthers Defiant Takes Football

4. Luke Kuechly

Luke Kuechly was a top draft pick out of Boston College, and he’s easily the best linebacker the Panthers have ever had. Although Kuechly’s career was cut short due to head injuries and concussions, he’s one of the greatest defensive players in franchise history. “Playing 8 seasons in the NFL, all for the Panthers, Kuechly was dominant since the moment he stepped onto an NFL field. Winning defensive rookie of the year in 2012, then defensive player of the year in only his second season in 2014, Kuechly was truly special. Known for his incredible instincts as a linebacker and being a great tackler, Kuechly was able to diagnose plays and predict where the ball was going with amazing accuracy. Making 7 pro bowls, 5 first team all-pro selections, and 2 2nd team all-pro teams is a lot for someone to accomplish in a 15 year career, but Kuechly doing this in 8 years is absolutely incredible,” raves Pro Sports Fans

It’s truly a shame that Kuechly’s career was cut short due to injury, but he was definitely well on his way to becoming one of the greatest middle linebackers in NFL history. “The only thing that slowed Kuechly was concussions, as he suffered three and was likely a significant reason he retired early in 2019. He’ll always be remembered for the high-flying linebacker that he was, as he covered the ground like no other. This combined with being one of the most intelligent players as he was indeed the quarterback of the Panthers defense. In his 8-year career, Kuechly amassed 1092 total tackles, 75 tackles for loss, 66 pass deflections and 18 interceptions,” furthers Last Word on Sports

Kuechly was one of the fastest sideline-to-sideline defenders the NFL has ever had, and his football instincts and IQ were second to none. Kuechly just had an eye for the ball and the ability to diagnose plays at the line of scrimmage. “Kuechly led the NFL in tackles with a career-high 164 in his rookie season. He recovered three fumbles, intercepted two passes and collected 12 tackles for loss. He earned the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. The following season, Kuechly captured the NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. He made seven consecutive Pro Bowls (2013-19). The only defender to have a longer streak of consecutive Pro Bowls was Bears Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary (10). Kuechly was also selected five times to the first-team All-Pro and twice to the second-team All-Pro,” writes Clutch Points

5. Thomas Davis, Sr. 

Rounding out the list of the best players in Carolina Panthers history is none other than Thomas Davis. He was Kuechly’s partner at the linebacker position in Carolina, and his contributions to the team often went overlooked as a result of Kuechly’s stellar play. However, Davis was drafted well before Kuechly, and he was the captain of the Panthers’ defense for years before Luke’s arrival. Make no mistake about it, Davis is one of the top players in Panthers history. 

“Thomas Davis was drafted as a Safety in 2005, but the former First Rounder was also learning the role of Linebacker, which would be the position that he would stick within the NFL. Davis would become a good Linebacker but missed the entire 2010 season due to injury and saw limited action in 2011. The Panthers never gave up on him, and in his early 30s, Davis would put together three straight Pro Bowl seasons (2015-17) the first of which where he was named a First Team All-Pro,” explains Not in Hall of Fame

Davis endured some tough seasons as a Panther before the arrival of Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly. H also had to overcome a lot of adversity over the course of his career, suffering three career-threatening knee injuries. “He tore his ACL on three separate occasions, all in the right knee. Davis remains the only professional athlete ever to play after three separate ACL tears… A great person off the field, Davis was named the 2014 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year. Davis is the Panthers’ all-time leader in solo tackles (789) and total/combined tackles (1,098),” adds Clutch Points

Davis earned the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for his work in the Charlotte community. Davis played his college football career at the University of Georgia, so his southern roots helped him fit in well with the Carolina Panthers and their fans. “Davis transformed himself from a talented safety to a fearsome linebacker. His unwavering commitment to the game and the team inspired both teammates and fans alike. Davis’s remarkable statistics, including leading the franchise in solo tackles and recording 18 forced fumbles, solidify his place among the Panthers’ all-time greats. Beyond his on-field achievements, Davis’s exceptional community involvement earned him the esteemed 2014 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, symbolizing his impact both on and off the field,” writes Defiant Takes Football

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