Outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense tends to be an often overlooked position. While their 3-4 brethren stand out on highlight reels with big sacks, the 4-3 guys tend to have a more subtle effect on the game, as they fall into the role of reliability more than play-maker.
When you see a player finish just his second year at the position, and have a huge impact on the game it's bound to make people take notice, and heading into his third season Sean Weatherspoonis doing just that. Immediately it's his 115 tackles in 2011 that stand-out, but as you dig a little deeper you notice his four sacks, and eight passes defended. Ultimately, Weatherspoon was effective in every phase of the defense last season, as he did an outstanding job stopping the run, defending the pass, and rushing the passer; it's a rare triumvirate we don't see often from OLB, with the Bears' Lance Briggs separating himself from the chaff in the last few seasons.
NFL.com's Greg Rosenthal was prepared to go a step further when discussing Weatherspoon's potential as he heaped praise on the young linebacker:
Weatherspoon is on his way to being one of the best overall linebackers in football
It's hard to argue with this evaluation. Rather than being a specialist, Weatherspoon could be the most athletically gifted 'Jack of all trades' in the National Football League, and in the brutal NFC South will be vital to the Falcons' long term chances to stop both the Buccaneers' move towards a run-based offense, and the Panthers' continued path towards their passing game.
Sadly the Pro Bowl is rarely a fair event, and the weight the fan-vote is given too often skews the end result. If you watched Weatherspoon play last season you know he deserved a spot, but even in predicting a Pro Bowl berth in 2012 Rosenthal continues to give him credit.
Weatherspoon is already one of the best 4-3 outside linebackers in football. He easily could have made the Pro Bowl last year, but he's not a big enough name yet. [...] Those Pro Bowl nods are often built on reputations gained one or two years after a player truly earns recognition. I'm doing my tiny part to elevate Weatherspoon's reputation now.
For those who know his game this kind of talk is fair, those who don't will learn more about Sean Weatherspoon soon enough.
For more on the Atlanta Falcons and Sean Witherspoon check out The Falcoholic. For more news and notes from around the NFL head over to SB Nation's NFL page.