CHARLOTTE (BVM) – Not many players have lived up to the billing quite like Julius Peppers did throughout his 17-year NFL career. From Rookie of the Year honors to All-Pro selections, Peppers exemplified what being a star pass rusher looked like during his run in the 2000s and 2010s.
As top draft selections enter the NFL with the burden of expectations, Peppers career was rare, as the former top-5 pick has only a Super Bowl missing on his resume. The two-sport North Carolina Tar Heels star shined during his time on the football field and basketball court. After racking up 30.5 sacks throughout his collegiate career, Peppers would go on to dominate NFL offensive tackles totalling 159.5 sacks, 175 tackles for loss, and 52 forced fumbles.
With a Hall of Fame resume, Peppers is all but awaiting his likely first-ballot candidacy to Canton.
Julius Peppers’ NFL career:
Peppers was selected second overall in the 2002 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers after the Houston Texans decided to go with Fresno State quarterback David Carr with the first overall pick. The incoming rookie from North Carolina would make an instant impact for his home team with a three–sack performance in a Week 2 matchup against Detroit.
The immediate effect that Peppers play brought during his rookie campaign would boost the entire defensive unit, as Carolina became the only team in NFL history to improve from last in the league in total defense, to second in one year.
With positive momentum gaining on his run for rookie of the year, Peppers would ultimately face a four-game suspension to end the season following a violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Even with the positive test of the banned dietary supplement, the Panthers defensive end was awarded with the 2002 Associated Press NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.
The mistake wouldn’t slow down Peppers’ development as he entered his second year in the league. After posting 12 sacks in 12 games, the 6-foot-7, 295-pound lineman would have a less productive season in year two, but would find greater team success as Carolina enjoyed an 11-5 record under head coach John Fox.
On the path to the Panthers’ first Super Bowl appearance, Peppers would leave a mark in his first career playoff game, intercepting Cowboys quarterback Quincy Carter that he returned for 21 yards. In the team’s Super Bowl matchup against the New England Patriots, Peppers would try to leave his mark, pressuring Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throughout the game. Even with the effort, the Panthers would fall just short behind a 32-29 loss.
The long-time Carolina defensive end would never reach the Super Bowl again throughout his career but would go on to dominate in his opening eight-year tenure with the Panthers, racking up 81 sacks, two All-Pro nominations and five Pro Bowl appearances.
After hitting free agency following the 2009-10 season, Peppers would ink a six-year contract worth $91.5 million, with $42 million guaranteed with the Chicago Bears. The signing would help elevate the team’s already elite defense, helping post an 11-5 record in the 2010 season. After a Divisional win over the Seattle Seahawks, Peppers and the Bears defense hurried Aaron Rodgers into two interceptions and no touchdowns in the NFC Championship Game. Even so, the Packers were able to pull out a narrow 17-14 victory to head to Super Bowl XLV.
In his four years with the Bears, Peppers would record 37.5 sacks, 47 tackles for loss, and 10 forced fumbles. The run would end in 2014 following his release from the team.
Peppers would end up signing with the Bears’ NFC North rivals in the Green Bay Packers shortly after his departure from Chicago. He would continue to post solid numbers from 2014-2016 with the team, and in his final season with the Packers, would move in the top five of all-time sack leaders following his 142nd sack of Brock Osweiler.
Peppers once again made the NFC Championship Game in the 2016 season but would come up short of another Super Bowl appearance following a 44-21 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
After returning to the Carolina Panthers in 2017, Peppers would go on to finish his career with the team that drafted him, spending his final two seasons with the organization. In February of 2019, Peppers announced his retirement
Julius Peppers’ career earnings, net worth:
Spanning his 17-year NFL career, Peppers accrued over $164 million in career earnings. After his retirement in 2019, the long-time Carolina Panther stayed with the organization in a special assistant of business operations role. Along with his work with the team, Peppers has continued to have a role within the Charlotte community. Between spending time in both North Carolina and Florida, Peppers is staying busy as a father to his three children.
In 2021, the long-time NFL great was honored for his time in his home state, receiving an induction into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame won’t be the only one the 42-year-old will be enshrined in, as the former star defensive end waits for his likely first-ballot candidacy into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2024.