Around the NFL  


Sean Weatherspoon, Falcons LB, en route to Pro Bowl


As we count down the days to training camp, Around the League will examine one player from every team set for a breakout campaign in 2012. Next up: the Atlanta Falcons.

Sean Weatherspoon on the brink of making the Pro Bowl

Making the Leap

Around the League will pick from each NFL team one player who's poised for a breakout season in 2012:

AFC East
Bills | Dolphins | Jets | Patriots
AFC North
Bengals | Browns | Ravens | Steelers
AFC South
Colts | Jaguars | Texans | Titans
AFC West
Broncos | Chargers | Chiefs | Raiders
NFC East
Cowboys | Eagles | Giants | Redskins
NFC North
Bears | Lions | Packers | Vikings
NFC South
Buccaneers | Falcons | Panthers | Saints
NFC West
49ers | Cardinals | Rams | Seahawks

Sean Weatherspoon is the guy who goes the craziest when his teammate makes a good play. He's the guy who pleads for an official to call a safety before it happens, the guy who jumps into a scrum late because he wants to be part of the action. He is always moving, always looking for action. He is a joy to watch.

None of this makes the third-year Falcons linebacker a great player. His speed, smarts and versatility take care of that. When you combine Weatherspoon's natural ability with his effort and attitude, you have a potential difference-maker. You get a leader.

I'm uncomfortable making Weatherspoon my "Making the Leap" pick for the Falcons, because he's already made a sizable jump. He's the leader of this Falcons defense. (Why do you think they let Curtis Lofton walk?) 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.

He's listed here because he deserves more attention. 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.

Weatherspoon is, in many ways, the prototypical modern player for his position. He covers tight ends -- like he did with the New York Giants' Jake Ballard in the playoffs -- with ease. He breaks on passes before they are thrown. He can rush the passer when asked. He instinctively avoids blocks and finds the football. He's a linebacker in a passing league. His level of effort is unquestioned.

There is no doubt Weatherspoon's aggressiveness sometimes causes problems when he over-pursues. He could be stronger in short-yardage situation.

But these are quibbles. Entering his third year, playing for a creative defensive coordinator in Mike Nolan, Weatherspoon is on his way to being one of the best overall linebackers in football.