On a fine spring day six years ago, San Francisco 49ers’ general management made the best decision of their collective professional career.
Slightly exaggerated statements notwithstanding, Willis arrived at a time when this once reputable franchise was in the midst of four consecutive losing seasons. He suffered through three of his own during the first four years of his professional career.
Despite the losing pedigree, Willis infused a sense of proficiency, greatness and a downright winning mentality in the San Francisco air. Anyone following the 49ers could intuit the special qualities of this linebacker from Bruceton, Tenn.
It certainly didn’t take long for those bestowing pro football honors to take notice.
Willis defied the odds that plague most rookies by earning Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors in his first go-around in the NFL. He led the league with an astonishing 174 tackles and introduced opposing quarterbacks to the gridiron floor four different times.
Something called the 2007 NFL AP Defensive Rookie of the Year found its way on Willis’ desk as well.
The man who dons No. 52 then proceeded to rack up Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro accolades for four of the next five seasons.
(This just in: Panelists overslept on All-Pro voting day in 2009.)
The only problem with being the unrivaled best at one’s position for six years running?
When greatness is so consistently achieved, people blithely accept it without any working appreciation of what’s really happening before them.
And Willis is the consummate example.
Luckily, the collection of football savants at Pro Football Focus have conveyed his staggering success in as tangible a view as if it were stapled to your forehead (membership required).
PFF Cumulative Inside Linebacker Summary
2008: #2. Patrick Willis
2009: #1. Patrick Willis
2010: #2. Patrick Willis
2011: #2. Patrick Willis
2012: #1. Patrick Willis
Get the picture?
It’s worth noting that he was second only to the very teammate that played beside him in 2008 and 2011. Willis’ prowess at inside linebacker readily permeates the field as if it were contagious.
It just pains us to send our condolences to Takeo Spikes and current 49ers left inside backer NaVorro Bowman for their terrible affliction.
Point being, Willis makes everyone and everything around him better.
Bowman, as phenomenal as he is at the linebacker position, would not have so quickly risen to league-leading status and earned his own first-team All-Pros without the guidance, teaching and infectious playmaking ability of Patrick Willis.
The 49ers elite defense, for its part, would not have boasted its top-five tail feathers for the past two years without Willis anchoring the heart of the unit.
Diagnosing, covering, hitting, tackling, leading, you name it—Willis performs all defensive obligations in ways that every NFL coach would teach to prospective players.
Get it now?
Feel free to express your appreciation for his greatness next time you’re sitting in the stands, if you see him guiding youngsters at a neighborhood ProCamp or catch him feasting on some delicious double blackened salmon on Twitter.
But don’t expect him to acknowledge it—he’s just too much of a selfless class act to brag about any personal glory.
Follow me on Twitter @jlevitt16
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