Sean Weatherspoon is proving that good things come to those that wait.
A first-round pick in 2010, Weatherspoon only played in 11 games as a rookie, registering five starts. He came in with expectations but injuries slowed his early NFL development. Last season saw a jump in production for the linebacker and he's now on the verge of being mentioned in the same breath as some of the best in the game.
The football analysis website ProFootballFocus.com recently called Weatherspoon the prototype for his position. They see Weatherspoon as the ideal 4-3 weakside outside linebacker.
The Will linebacker is a position that takes advantage of the linebacker's athletic ability. He's expected to fly around the field, find the ball, and hopefully, make a play.
Weatherspoon made plenty of plays last year and showed that his early struggles are behind him. He finished the season with 115 tackles and four sacks. Only 24, he's expected to continue getting better.
"After a breakout second season, the new NFL prototype might be the Falcons' Sean Weatherspoon," Sam Monson of PFF wrote. "He is a fast, instinctive linebacker and was PFF's fourth-rated 4-3 OLB against the run last season."
The breakout 2011 season also earned Weatherspoon some extra trust from the coaching staff. Although Mike Nolan is taking over the role of defensive coordinator this season, Weatherspoon will be Nolan's extension on the field. This season he'll be translating the play calls to the entire defense.
It's an increased role in the leadership of the defense for Weatherspoon as well, one that the young, vocal linebacker embraces. He filled the same role as a senior in 2009 while at Missouri and during the week of Senior Bowl practices following that season.
"I'm definitely looking forward to the challenge," Weatherspoon said in April. "I think I'm ready for that, to do a little more and step out there and do some different things. I look forward to the challenge and I think it's going to be fun."
Weatherspoon had a shot at earning a Pro Bowl bid with his play last season. With a season like his in the books and the attention he's received in the offseason, his Pro Bowl chances for 2012 are strong.
Last year four outside linebackers represented the NFC at the Pro Bowl. Two of them, Clay Matthews and DeMarcus Ware, are 3-4 outside linebackers with primary responsibilities including rushing the quarterback. The more versatile 4-3 linebackers were Lance Briggs and Chad Greenway.
Weatherspoon is on his way to supplanting one of them in 2012.