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Panthers’ Kuechly earns fourth career All-Pro honor

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Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly was one of four players to be named to The Associated Press All-Pro First Team that was announced Friday for the fourth time in their careers.

Kuechly was joined on the first team by Panthers teammate Andrew Norwell at left guard while Carolina right tackle Darryl Williams landed on the second team.

Also earning their fourth career All-Pro distinctions were Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, this year’s only unanimous selection, along with New England Patriots Rob Gronkowski and Los Angeles Rams punter Johnny Hekker.

Kuechly, a sixth-year pro out of Boston College, ranked 10th in the NFL with 125 combined tackles to go with three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Kuechly, who was the 2012 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year and the 2013 AP Defensive Player of the Year, also made the All-Pro First Team in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and was voted to the second team last season.

Norwell, an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State in his fourth season with the Panthers, is an All-Pro selection for the first time.

The stunning turnaround by the Jacksonville Jaguars shows best in the NFL standings — and the All-Pro Team.

Rarely do the Jags have members of the elite All-Pro squad. For 2017, they have two: edge rusher Calais Campbell and cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

“It’s huge,” Campbell said. “That’s a big testament to the work we put in. We don’t just show up and perform. We grind day in and day out to be the best. This defense is very special, so I’m glad to see us get some accolades for our hard work.”

Added Ramsey of The Associated Press All-Pro Team announced Friday:

“I can go on and on about corners I respect and I think are really good in the league. But I think (the voters) realize that I cover No. 1s every week, that I’m still putting up high numbers, still playing very well in my role and doing what I have to do.”

What Campbell and Ramsey did was help the Jaguars rank first in pass defense and second overall, earning their first playoff berth since the 2007 season.

Brown, the brilliant wide receiver of the Pittsburgh Steelers, drew all 50 ballots from a nationwide panel of media members who regularly cover the league. Brown missed the last two-plus games with an ankle injury.

The repeaters from 2016 were Brown; Rams interior defensive lineman Aaron Donald, who got 49 votes, and punter Hekker; and Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady made his third All-Pro team.

In their own turnaround season, the Rams led the way with six All-Pros, including two more specialists: kicker Greg Zuerlein and kick returner Pharoh Cooper. Running back Todd Gurley and left tackle Andrew Whitworth were honored.

Cooper and Gurley played high school football at Havelock and Tarboro, respectively.

“Dang, that’s crazy. It means a lot, honestly,” said Gurley, who likely would have led the league in rushing had he played in LA’s finale. “It’s a blessing. I’ve got so much respect for everybody in this league, and to be in this position just means so much to me.

“I’ve been following people around the NFL my whole life, and to be considered as an All-Pro, man, God is good, honestly. Honestly.”

Three Steelers joined Brown on the roster: Le’Veon Bell as the flex, interior defensive lineman Cam Heyward, and right guard David DeCastro. No other team had more than two All-Pros, with the stronger NFC getting 18 players and the AFC 10.

Two rookies made it: punt returner Jamal Agnew of Detroit and special teamer Budda Baker of Arizona.

Also chosen: Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson and center Jason Kelce; Panthers left guard Andrew Norwell; Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins; Saints edge rusher Cameron Jordan; Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones; Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Harrison Smith; Detroit defensive back Darius Slay; and Titans safety Kevin Byard.

First-timers made an impression on both sides of the ball, with 15 on the team: Byard, Slay, Rhodes, Jones, Jordan, Ramsey, Campbell, Hopkins, Norwell, Kelce, Johnson, Agnew, Baker, Gurley, and Cooper.

Wagner is on his third All-Pro squad.

“When you get voted for these types of awards,” he said, “it shows you all the work you do in the offseason, the grinding, all the things you push through ... when you get this, when people say this is not AFC, NFC, this is the league, this is who we deem the best at their position in the league, that says a lot. And you see the guys before you, the things they were able to accomplish, you’ve seen those things and you want those things. It’s part of that mindset of wanting to be great and understanding what comes along with that, and wanting that kind of acknowledgment.”

While making All-Pro has become almost natural for Wagner, Jordan finally got there in his seventh pro season.

“I’m definitely trying to push myself to be better than I was the year previous,” he said. “I think I had a really good year last year. Of course, sack numbers won’t show that, but in terms of playing the run, in terms of getting after the passer I thought last year was one of my better years (7 1-2 sacks, 17 tackles for loss). So what I wanted to do this year is, of course, push myself to be better than last. That probably only poses the problem of where I go next year. Now I’ve got to shoot for more than what I did this year.”

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AP Sports Writers Mark Long, Tim Booth, Brett Martel and Greg Beacham contributed to this report.

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For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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