Not even a four-game suspension could stop Julius Peppers from winning The Associated Press NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award Monday.
The Carolina Panthers' defensive end, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, missed the last four games of the season for violating the league's drug policy. He took a dietary supplement that contained a banned substance.
Before that, he had 12 sacks, second among rookies to Colts end Dwight Freeney, who played the entire season and had 13.
Peppers, a former basketball player at North Carolina who gave up roundball to play football full time, received 25 votes from a nationwide panel of sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL. Freeney was next with 14.
"When I first came into this season, I felt that I had a chance to win this award if I played up to my potential and did what I knew I could do," Peppers said. "I was never focused on winning individual awards. I just tried to help the team out and do all that I could do. I thought that my suspension would hurt my chances at winning this award, because it seemed like everyone had forgotten me, because I wasn't able to play in the last four games. ... It feels good to win this award because it means that people noticed what I did this year."
Peppers helped the Panthers leap from 1-15 in 2001 to 7-9. The defense ranked second in the NFL. Peppers was enough of a presence against the run to help his team rank eighth.