Frankie Luvu has been known amongst Panthers fans since joining the team, but he made his presence known league-wide this past season. In his fifth year in the NFL he took a major leap, becoming a force on the Carolina defense. He hasn’t taken a conventional path in the NFL, but Luvu has gone from undrafted to a player most teams wish they had.
Before the NFL
Luvu was born in the village of Tafuna in American Samoa. He played football at Tafuna High School and received one reported Division-I offer. This was from Washington State, where he began his collegiate football career in 2014, playing linebacker. He assumed a bigger role in each season there, playing 15 games in his junior and senior year.
His junior year in 2016 saw him post 46 tackles, seven for loss and 1.5 sacks. He flourished even more in his senior season, recording 48 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and even two interceptions. That year he ranked eighth in the Pac-12 in tackles for loss, and ninth in total sacks. He finished his career in Pullman with 110 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and eight sacks. Despite all of this, he wasn’t selected in the 2018 NFL Draft.
First Pro Opportunity
Shortly after the draft, the New York Jets decided to sign Luvu as an undrafted free agent. He spent the offseason with them, but was waived and signed to their practice squad in early September. Less than a week later he was promoted to the active roster, and would appear in 14 games over the course of his rookie year. Through those games he tallied up 22 tackles, five tackles for loss and three sacks. Those three sacks led all undrafted rookies that year.
It was a similar story the following season, as Luvu was waived, signed to the practice squad and eventually promoted. His numbers fell off due to a lack of opportunities though, and he only recorded 12 tackles. Nevertheless, he signed another one-year deal with the Jets. He appeared in 13 games in 2020, even starting in three. Luvu recorded a career-high 25 tackles, and seemingly made enough noise for at least one other team to take notice.
Finding His Home
In the 2021 free agency period, Luvu signed with the Carolina Panthers on a one-year, $1.1 million deal. He set out to prove his worth on a new team, and did just that. Luvu started in four of his 16 appearances and racked up 43 tackles, 8 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. He recovered three fumbles, third most in a season in Panthers’ history, and even blocked a punt.
Luvu showed the front office that he was worthy of a long-term roster spot, and they rewarded him with one. On Feb. 17, 2022, he signed a two-year contract extension with the Panthers, worth $9 million. Finally locked in with a team, he flourished in 2022. He started in 14 games and recorded the second most tackles on the team with 111. An astounding 19 of those tackles were for loss, including a career-high seven sacks. He even snagged his first career interception when he picked off Kyler Murray and returned it for a touchdown in week four.
He became just the third player since 2000 to record 100+ tackles and 19 tackles for loss in the same season, joining Lavonte David and Panthers legend Luke Kuechly. His 19 tackles for loss are the second most in a single season in Panthers history, trailing only Kuechly, who had 20 in 2018. Despite his phenomenal year, Luvu was not selected to the Pro Bowl, and didn’t receive a single All-Pro vote. Given how his stats compared to players who did, many were perplexed by this, including Luvu.
After no teams were willing to take a chance on drafting Luvu in 2018, he’s proven that he’s well-deserving of his spot as an NFL player, and starter. He’s shined over the last few seasons, and has embraced the role as a voice for future undrafted players who will have a chance to do the same.
Coming into the final year of his deal, Luvu will certainly be looking to shock the league once again as he closes in on a new contract. Panthers fans hope he won’t be leaving anytime soon though, as he’s become one of the cornerstones of this young defense. He’s already made a mark in Carolina’s history books, and has the opportunity to do more of the same going forward.
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Featured image courtesy of the Carolina Panthers.
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