Panthers' Kuechly named NFL's top rookie defender

Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly was named the 2012 Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year on Saturday.

Kuechly, the ninth overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, led the NFL in tackles with 164 this season. He was 15 tackles ahead of the second-best total by San Francisco's NaVorro Bowman.

"With these honors tonight, they are individual awards, but I think football is such a team game that you've got to thank the guys around you," said Kuechly during Saturday's awards ceremony. "I think for me that a d-line plays an integral part into being a successful linebacker. It's important to them. It's important to give some thanks to them, all the coaches on the team, all the players and most importantly, my family that made this possible

Also on Kuechly's rookie résumé are three fumble recovers, eight pass defenses and a sack from both the weakside and middle linebacker positions.

"(Luke) is everything we thought he would be and more," said Panthers coach Ron Rivera after Carolina's 17-6 victory against the Oakland Raiders on Dec. 24, 2012. "I really think he has got a very bright future here for us. You feel very good about him leading your defense."

The Panthers are only the fourth team in the 45-year history of the AP NFL awards to have players win offensive or defensive rookie of the year honors in two-straight seasons.

Below are a list of complete AP NFL award winners:

AP Most Valuable Player
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings

AP Coach of the Year
Bruce Arians, Indianapolis Colts

AP Offensive Player of the Year
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings

AP Defensive Player of the Year
J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans

AP Comeback Player of the Year
Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos

AP Offensive Rookie of the Year
Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins

AP Defensive Rookie of the Year
Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina Panthers

Walter Payton Man of the Year
Jason Witten, TE, Dallas Cowboys