Finishing sixth in these rankings is linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. Click here to read about how the scoring system for these rankings was devised.
Total Score: 86
Player Grade: 74 out of 100
Teams he could start for: 31 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 23 out of 32
Teams he could find role on: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +4
Positional Bonus: +3
Weatherspoon looked like a monster in 2011, considered alongside Chicago Bears outside linebacker Lance Briggs as the league’s preeminent 4-3 outside linebacker. But he was not quite the same in 2012. The change in defense presented by defensive coordinator Mike Nolan seemed to take Weatherspoon away from what he did best, which was being able to play in space and make stops in pursuit. Last year, with the Falcons using more nickel defenses, Weatherspoon functioned much more like an inside linebacker that was asked to play in the box and attack downhill. Weatherspoon isn’t the biggest linebacker nor is he great taking on blockers and playing at the point of attack. He’s not poor at those things, but it certainly isn’t the strength of his game. Not to mention playing beside Akeem Dent didn’t help because of his struggles with being out of position.
But going into his second season under Nolan, the hope is that Weatherspoon will be more comfortable. He’ll be asked to take on more of a leadership role on the defensive side of the ball. Gone is mentor Mike Peterson, as well as other veterans on defense. While veterans like Jonathan Babineaux and Asante Samuel remain, it’s no doubt that they aren’t going to be sticking around forever. This defense eventually is expected to morph into Weatherspoon’s team where he may be the rock they lean on. And in order to fulfill that role, the team is going to need more production out of him in 2013.