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All-time UNC Football Top 25 Countdown: No. 3 Julius Peppers

In just three seasons at UNC nearly two decades ago, Peppers remains at the top of the defensive record books.

Julius Peppers #49

This summer, Tar Heel Blog will profile the top 25 players in the history of the North Carolina football program. The rankings were determined by votes from readers and staff.

During Julius Peppers’ time in Chapel Hill, he missed just one start in his three year career. He was the key piece in the 2001 defense that was the best in the ACC and finished 15th in the nation in total defense. A force on the gridiron and an imposing presence on the hardwoods, Peppers was one of the top two-sport student-athletes at Carolina and in NCAA history.

Peppers continues to show the power, athleticism, and versatility that he showcased with the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Career at UNC

Julius Peppers Career Statistics

Year Total Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks Interceptions Interception Return Touchdowns Forced Fumbles Fumbles Recovered Fumble Return Touchdowns
Year Total Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks Interceptions Interception Return Touchdowns Forced Fumbles Fumbles Recovered Fumble Return Touchdowns
1999 50 10-47 6-36 1 0 1 1 0
2000 64 24-146 15-117 1 1 3 1 1
2001 63 19-74 9.5-56 3 1 1 0 0
Totals 167 53-267 30.5-209 5 2 5 2 1

Peppers ranks second in career sacks at Carolina with 30.5. In single-season sacks, he holds the second (15 in 2000) and eighth (9.5 in 2001) spots in program history. His 15 sacks in 2000 led the nation.

In 2000, Peppers recorded 24 tackles for loss, the most single-season TFLs in UNC history. His 2001 campaign ranks seventh on that list. In a career, Peppers recorded 53 tackles for loss, the second-most in program history.

It is interesting to note that Peppers had five interceptions at Carolina. His three picks in 2001 led the team. In his career, he returned two interceptions and one fumble recovery for touchdowns.

Honors and Awards

Peppers was a First-Team All-American in 2000 and 2001, including an unanimous All-American selection in 2001. He is just one of three Carolina players, along with Lawrence Taylor and Jonathan Cooper, to be named an unanimous All-American selection. Due to these All-American honors, his #49 jersey is honored at Kenan Memorial Stadium.

In addition to his All-American honors, Peppers was named to the All-ACC first team in both 2000 and 2001.

He won the Peppers Lombardi Award as the nation’s top lineman, the Bednarik Award as the nation’s top defensive player, and the Chevrolet National Defensive Player of the Year in 2001. He was the first defensive player at Carolina to win national awards. He was also a finalist for the Nagurski Award for top collegiate defensive player and for the Football News National Defensive Player of the Year. Peppers was the last UNC player to receive votes for the Heisman Trophy.

In 2002, Peppers was named to the Top 50 players of the first 50 years of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Top Games at UNC

Against Virginia in 2000, Peppers set, and continues to hold, the Carolina record for most sacks in a game with four. His defensive efforts and those of his teammates, were not enough for a stagnant offense that did not score a touchdown in that game and turned the ball over twice.

In 2001, Carolina had one of the toughest schedules in the country. UNC faced off against three top ten teams, six ranked teams, and the eventual ACC champion Maryland.

Against No. 6 Florida State, the Tar Heels demolished Bowden’s boys 41-9 in Chapel Hill. Peppers had ten total tackles and four tackles for loss, tied for the most of any single game on the team that season. He added a sack and an interception in that game.

Later in the 2001 season, the Heels traveled to Death Valley to take on the Tigers. Another whooping was in order, as Carolina beat Clemson 38-3. Peppers had five tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack, and one interception to beat the 13th ranked Tigers.

After UNC

The Wilson, North Carolina and Southern Nash product was selected second overall by the home team in the 2002 NFL Draft. After Mitch Trubisky’s second overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, Peppers is one of the four highest selected Tar Heels in the NFL Draft.

Buccaneers v Panthers
Peppers sacks Rob Johnson of Tampa Bay and forces a fumble in 2002.
Photo by Craig Jones/Getty Images

In his rookie season, Peppers recorded 12 sacks, 28 tackles, five forced fumbles, and an interception. He was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

In his first eight seasons in the league with the Carolina Panthers, Peppers was named to five Pro Bowls and was a First-Team All-Pro selection in two of those seasons. He recorded 81 sacks in those first eight seasons, registering more than 10 in six of those years. Peppers had 309 tackles, six interceptions (including two pick-sixes), and 30 forced fumbles. He had a career-high of 14.5 sacks during the 2008 season.

After the franchise tag was not placed on Peppers after the 2009 season, he signed with the Chicago Bears.

Cincinnati Bengals v Chicago Bears Getty

In four seasons with the Bears, Peppers recorded 37.5 sacks, 139 tackles, three interceptions, and ten forced fumbles. In three of four seasons in Chicago, he was named to the Pro Bowl, with one First-Team All-Pro selection.

After being released by the Bears, he signed with division rival Green Bay.

Wild Card Round - New York Giants v Green Bay Packers Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Green Bay 3-4 defense would be a change for Peppers, and in testament to his versatility, spent three seasons at the outside linebacker position. During his time in Green Bay, Peppers recorded 25 sacks, 74 tackles, two interceptions, and ten forced fumbled. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2015.

Peppers decided to return home, and possibly finish out his Hall of Fame career with the Panthers.

Carolina Panthers v Tennessee Titans
Peppers in a preseason game on August 19, 2017
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Peppers is the active NFL career sacks leader with 143.5. That is good for fifth all-time. With Peppers returning to his natural defensive end position this season, look for him to add to that career sacks number and to be a key piece in the Panthers’ Super Bowl LII victory.