As has been the case the past two summers, I will look at evaluating some of the Falcons current players. Will be looking to assess their strengths, weaknesses, and what fans can expect to see from them in 2012. Let’s kick things off with the player that anchors the defense in Sean Weatherspoon.
Pros: Spoon possesses very good range and speed, able to make plays anywhere on the field from sideline to sideline. Does a good job as a “run and hit” linebacker, able to flow to the football and make plays in pursuit. He has good instincts when it comes to reading and reacting to plays, and does a good job taking good angles to the football. Packs some power and pop as a tackler, and will lower the boom to deliver a big hit to the ballcarrier. Has very good athleticism with good flexibility and hips, making him an ideal coverage linebacker. Capable of matching up with some of the league’s better tight ends. Is a very effective blitzer due to his speed and short-area burst, able to explode upfield and into the backfield to disrupt the pass. Has a loquacious and jubilant personality that makes him effective in a leadership position.
Cons: Not always a reliable tackler and can be overpowered at the point of attack. Doesn’t do a great job getting off blocks at the point of attack, causing him to get caught up in traffic against the inside run. Also has some difficulty getting off blocks in space, particularly when it comes to screens. Despite his natural skillset, still needs to develop better awareness when in coverage. Aggressive play can get him in trouble at times by bordering on being overaggressive.
2012 Outlook: Weatherspoon was arguably the best 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL last season, joining the ranks of players like Lance Briggs, Daryl Smith, and Chad Greenway in a position group that has largely dominated by 3-4 players that get nationwide recognition. It’s one of the reasons why Weatherspoon is still a bit under the radar from a national perspective. With new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan calling the shots, the Falcons will continue to look at Spoon as being one of the lynchpins of their defense. He was good enough last year to earn defensive MVP honors from this site and was overlooked in Pro Bowl voting. But this upcoming season, those things hopefully will change as Weatherspoon should be poised for his first Pro Bowl appearance.