Carolina Panthers

Underappreciated sack artist Julius Peppers retires after Hall of Fame career

The second overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft will hang it up after 17 seasons. But did Julius Peppers’ impact go somewhat unnoticed?

“It’s not goodbye, It’s see ya later.”

Flashback to 2002. The NFL added a 32nd team in the Houston Texans and used the first overall pick on Fresno State quarterback David Carr. That left the Carolina Panthers, off a one-win season and losers of their final 15 games in 2001, with the choice of taking intriguing defensive end Julius Peppers.

The impressive athlete who also played basketball at North Carolina made quite the impression from the start, although not all of it was positive. He was also limited to 12 games as a rookie because he served a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. But in those appearances, there were 35 tackles, 12 sacks, five forced fumbles and one interception on the way to being named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Now after 17 seasons with the Panthers, Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers, Peppers announced his retirement from the NFL.

The numbers are gaudy and he’s done it in different roles, both as a 4-3 defensive end and a 3-4 outside linebacker. Including his rookie campaign, he missed only six regular-season games out of 272 contests. There have been 159.5 sacks (fourth-most in NFL history), 52 forced fumbles, 21 fumble recoveries and 11 interceptions. He’s returned six of those 32 takeaways for touchdowns. The ageless Peppers returned to the Panthers in ’17 and these past two seasons came up with a combined 16 sacks. The 39-year-old specimen was named to nine Pro Bowls and earned All-Pro honors three times.

And yet, he’s never really garnered the same attention as some of the other top defenders of his generation. Is it possible that the athletic defender was simply taken for granted throughout his career? Yes, he never led the league in sacks in any of his 17 campaigns but did total 10 or more quarterback traps 10 times. Peppers was also never named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He was a member of eight teams that reached the playoffs during his career but doesn’t own a Super Bowl ring.

Peppers is likely Hall of Fame-bound and it would be somewhat of a surprise if he wasn’t a first-ballot entry, meaning a member of the Class of 2024. But if there was such a thing as a quiet 266 games played and 159.5 sacks, the versatile star may be the biggest example in recent NFL memory.

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