Feels weird that this position would have been an unmitigated disaster without a few undrafted free agents. I can't think of when else that has been the case.But the new additions helped improve a shaky group of a veterans.
- Sean Weatherspoon (399 snaps at outside linebacker)
- Paul Worrilow (309 snaps)
- Joplo Bartu (789 snaps)
- Stephen Nicholas (132 snaps)
- Kroy Biermann (99 snaps)
- Omar Gaither (5 snaps)
There was a point where the Atlanta defense wasn't looking too bad. Biermann was looking great rushing the passer and covering the bigger tight ends. For two games. He tore his achilles and ended up on injured reserve.
Weatherspoon is producing an alarming injury history and this year was no different. Spoon put together seven games after falling onto short-term injured reserve, and has played more than 13 games just once since he was drafted. Ouch.
However, these injuries allowed Bartu and Worrilow to step up and play well.
I wanted to rely on Pro Football Focus but I hate their grades on our linebackers. Across the board I think their grades are not representative of how a player played, at least with these linebackers. So I'm using my metric of "what I enjoyed the most".
Week 9 against Carolina. Worrilow finally got a shot at a full-time roll and exploded with 19 tackles. In one game. Seriously, half the time it felt like he was the only player on our defense.
Giving up about 170 yards and three touchdowns to Bobby Rainey is an embarrassment. Rainey had one other game he ran for more than 63 yards the rest of the year.
This is kind of hard. No linebacker won a game for us. Usually Atlanta fell behind and the other team would run against a defensive line that could never set the edge. This may be part of the problem. Weatherspoon, obviously dealing with injury, didn't make nearly the number of impact plays you would want out of a first rounder. He was just sort of out there.
However, I didn't even realize Bartu had 3.5 sacks (PFF says 5). Despite the grades attached to Bartu, I liked him in coverage and he obviously has some skill at taking down quarterbacks. I'll give best moment for his sack of Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson way back in week 10.
Biermann going down. I really liked what I saw from Kroy this year and it seemed like Mike Nolan was fully utilizing him in a defensive end/outside linebacker role. He did well covering the more athletic tight ends and is nice in spot duty getting to the quarterback. It really hurts to lose a guy that versatile after letting John Abraham go in the offseason.
Players Under Contract
There is some concern here, at least from me, that Thomas Dimitroff might hand a former first-round pick with a serious injury history far too much money. It is just a feeling I have. Biermann has only one year left but if healthy should be up for a reasonable contract extension. Worrilow and Bartu are paying off with their cheeeeeeeeeeeeap contracts.
- Sean Weatherspoon. 2014: $1,368,750, 2015: Free Agent 2014: $1,368,750, 2015: Free Agent
- Paul Worrilow. 2014: $495,000, 2015: $585,000, 2016: Restricted Free Agent
- Joplo Bartu. 2014: $495,000, 2015: $585,000, 2016: Restricted Free Agent
- Stephen Nicholas. 2014: $0
- Kroy Biermann. 2014: $2.55 million, 2015: Free Agent
Final Grade: B
This would be nearly an F without Bartu and Worrilow, two young players who played very well under Nolan. They looked good as undrafted free agents no one expected to play, let alone start. I hope they develop into our long term starters.
Nicholas (oddly the highest graded guy on PFF) looked done. He had some very good seasons in Atlanta but did very little with his limited snaps and was among the first cuts from Atlanta.
Weatherspoon is a guy you have to love but he has not paid off as a draft pick. He seemed to peak out in 2011 and has struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness since. I hope he can turn it around as he is now in a contract year.
In 2013 this was the only position that successfully dealt with multiple injuries. With little else going right in 2013, at least we had the outside linebackers. Or even just Worrilow. Worrilow is awesome.