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What’s Next for Spoon and the 2014 LB Corps?
After the the great injury curse of 2013, Falcons fans got their first bitter pill of the 2014 season: LB Sean Weatherspoon is out for the season. He tore his Achilles Heel in the process of healing his injured knee that kept him out for most of the 2013 season and many believed was the main reason for his ineffective play. It brings somewhat of a disappointing conclusion to a very promising career. The question now turns to: what’s next?
Early Hype and Promise, Few Results
Spoon was an immediate fan favorite when he was drafted because he brought intensity, energy, and excitement to a Falcons defense in sore need of one. He was undeniably the best linebacker coming out in the 2010 NFL Draft. If anyone would like to dump on the pick, go take a glance at his college stats (406 tackles, 44 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, 21 passes defensed, 4 INTs, 2 TDs). He was a true stud coming out. As a first round draft pick, he only started 5 games and played in a total of 11 (a gloomy omen in hindsight). He made minimal impact, pulling down 42 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 pass defensed.
One Year a Career Doesn’t Make
Spoon really increased hope in his potential “breakout” season of 2011. He had 82 tackles, 4 sacks, and 8 passes defensed. Some thought he was deserving of a Pro Bowl year, but in the age of 3-4 OLB’s, the days of 4-3 OLB’s making All-Pro have seemingly come to an end. Many felt that it was the start to an amazing career, but unfortunately that was the pinnacle. His totals dropped across the board in tackles (70), sacks (3), and passes defensed (4). He did pull down his first career INT. That season saw him miss 3 more games as well. Then last year was the culmination, where he was ineffective all season even before he was shutdown for the year. 38 tackles, 0 sacks, 0 passes defensed, 1 interception for a TD.
Injury Issues from the Start
In 4 years time, the biggest complaint is the amount of time that Weatherspoon has missed due to injury, a surprise coming out of college since he played in all 52 games while at Missouri. But, for whatever reason and it happens many times, once he got to the NFL he had major injury issues. His rookie year he only started 5 games, but he missed 5 the whole season. He made all 16 starts in 2011, not coincidentally enough his best year. He missed 3 games in 2012, and then 9 games last year. Out of 64 possible starts in 4 years, Weatherspoon only started 41 games (64% starting percentage). Injuries happen, but even when Weatherspoon was fully healthy, he’s never lived up to his potential.
Probably Not the End, but…………
Sean Weatherspoon has probably not seen the end of his chances to remain a Falcon and get his career back on track, but it’s going to obviously be much,much harder going forward. The Falcons really have no downside in bringing him back on a one year deal after his contract expires at the end of 2014. They’ve already invested a 1st round pick in him and will likely be instrumental in his rehabilitation process and it just makes too much sense. They showed they would do the right thing with Corey Peters when he suffered a crushingly late injury in game 15 right before he hit free agency. It would benefit Spoon by staying around the organization he’s most familiar with in trying to revive his career. It’s a win-win across the board. The problem, however, is Weatherspoon finding his way back in the starting lineup after two consecutive injuries and players starting in his absence (Worrilow, Bartu) and a slew of rookies looking to fill the newly created void (Prince Shembo, Yamin Smallwood).
How Much will Spoon be Missed?
Honestly, that’s a hard question to answer at the moment. He simply never became the “playmaking LB” that many were waiting for him to become. Solid? Yes. Great? Definitely not. As mentioned above, he had a stellar year, but didn’t become what many expected him to, in terms of sacks, passes defensed, or interceptions. Maybe it was a function of coaching, scheme, and strategy that hindered his NFL production. But the fact that Joplo Bartu, as an undrafted free agent, tallied almost half the sacks (3.5) in one year that Weatherspoon did in four (8) seems to say that he shouldn’t be missed as much as originally thought. If we’re talking 2011, that’s a different story, but the last two seasons he just hasn’t produced as he was projected to when taken with 19th overall draft pick.
Who Steps Up?
This may seem comically optimistic, but right now it appears the Falcons might just be OK. Weatherspoon only played 7 games in 2013 and was largely ineffective when he did play. That opened the door for Worrilow and Bartu and they took full advantage of it. While some fans don’t believe the “hype” on Worrilow, he had a pretty fantastic start for an undrafted free agent. The former Blue Hen pulled down 127 tackles, 2 sacks (should’ve been 3 with that amazing near sack he had on Cam Newton in the final game), and 1 pass defensed, and that was in 12 games. Sure, he’s got a long ways to go before he nears perfection, but for a first year player that wasn’t even worthy of a draft pick, he’s shown great promise going forward.
Many thought Jolpo Bartu might be vying for a job on the outside, where his athleticism could pay off. But with Spoon gone for the year and plenty of competition on the outside (Massaquoi, Biermann, Umenyiora, Starr, Spruill), Bartu likely could be moving back inside to join Worrilow as the lead candidates to fill the void, and that’s not really that bad looking forward. Bartu had more sacks in year 1 than every year of Spoon’s career except for his best year. The forgotten man is 2011 3rd round pick Akeem Dent. That’s due to the fact that he was beat out by two undrafted free agents last year and hasn’t done much of anything since being a Falcon. It doesn’t mean he can’t make the move, but most aren’t counting on it.
Should Falcons Bring in a Veteran Free Agent?
The short answer should be NO, but looking at a tweet sent out by an NFL writer, it included several LB’s that are available. That list included Desmond Bishop, Pat Angerer, Dan Connor, Stewart Bradley, Paris Lenon, and Jonathan Vilma. These guys are either washed up or never were. If they were worth much, they wouldn’t be unemployed. It’s time to roll with what the Falcons have, and the cupboard luckily isn’t bare.