- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers had five players selected to the Pro Bowl on Friday, the most since seven were named to the annual all-star game in 1996.
They easily could have two or three more on a team that is 11-4 heading into Sunday's regular-season finale at Atlanta.
Tolbert, Kuechly and Hardy are first-time selections.
“It’s an honor to be selected,” Kuechly said. “I’ve grown up watching the games at the end of the season and it’s awesome to have a chance to be a part of it. Our defense has played great this year and made this possible.”
Among those left off the team was outside linebacker Thomas Davis, who has a career-best 143 tackles and four sacks for the league's second-ranked defense.
Coach Ron Rivera was disappointed.
"He's played so well,'' Rivera said of Davis, the first player to come back from three ACL surgeries on the same knee. "He does so many good things. The hard part is he plays outside linebacker in a league where you have 3-4 linebackers that get double-digit sacks.
"People miss the true impact of an outside linebacker in a true 4-3 scheme. I'd love to see a guy like that get his due.''
Here's a look at the Panthers that were selected:
QB Cam Newton: Has a career-best passer rating of 89.2 on the season, 93.6 over the past 11 games in leading Carolina to a 10-1 record. Has thrown for 16 touchdowns during that span and rushed for five more. Has four game-winning, last-minute drives, against San Francisco, New England, Miami and New Orleans.
My take: Much deserved, particularly with the comebacks. Has elevated his game to a new level.
C Ryan Kalil: The anchor of the line for the league's 11th-ranked rush offense and the team's 2013 Ed Block Courage Award winner. This is his fourth career Pro Bowl.
My take: This too was a no-brainer. The only injustice is that left tackle Jordan Gross wasn't selected as well.
FB Mike Tolbert: A versatile player who can play fullback, running back and tight end. Third on the team in rushing with 332 yards. His five rushing touchdowns are second to Newton's six.
My take: One of the most complete all-around backs in the league. Hard to believe this is his first selection.
MLB Luke Kuechly: Leads the team in tackles with 167, two more than he had a year ago when he led the league and was selected the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Coming off a 24-tackle effort against the New Orleans Saints.
My take: This was a no-brainer. He should be a Pro Bowler for years to come.
DE Greg Hardy: Leads the team in sacks with 11 and quarterback pressures with 34. His ability to play every position along the line makes him invaluable.
My take: The man who calls himself The Kraken just saw his price tag in free agency go up. He wants to return to Carolina, and is willing to take less than other teams offer if it's within reason. This could change things. The Panthers might have been smart to re-sign him before the season when they had the chance.
Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.