Paul Worrilow has earned the right to be the Atlanta Falcons' starting linebacker when Sean Weatherspoon comes back from his foot injury. No matter who takes the third linebacker spot between Akeem Dent and Joplo Bartu, Worrilow has proven that he's a starting NFL linebacker through just three weeks as an NFL starter.
Who should start at linebacker for the Falcons when Weatherspoon returns?
Before the preseason, Falcons fans saw the signing of Worrilow and asked who he was, why they should be excited or whether he even had a shot at the roster. He's proving to everyone not only why he made the roster, but why he's the best linebacker on the Falcons not named Weatherspoon.
Worrilow's 19-tackle performance against the Carolina Panthers just magnified what the rookie has been doing this season. He flew around the field making tackle after tackle and looking like a man who was trying to make sure that the Falcons offense could get the ball back for some sort of comeback.
Unfortunately, the Falcons were unable to do that despite Worrilow matching the best Atlanta tackling effort since Curtis Lofton had 19 tackles against the Patriots in 2009.
He first flashed his abilities to the Falcons in the 2013 preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals when he racked up 11 tackles in just two-and-a-half quarters.
He's been proving that he's a starter ever since. He's shown that he's exactly what the Falcons have been missing in the middle of their linebacking corps: a Keith Brooking 2.0. Someone who can fly around and be a tackling machine in the middle of the defense.
Worrilow has the potential to be the next Keith Brooking.
At 6'2" and 240 pounds, Brooking was one of the best linebackers in Falcons history. He flew around the field, made sure everyone was lined up properly before the snap, and led the Falcons in tackles in almost every game. He did so well in the middle that he went to five consecutive Pro Bowls from 2001 to 2005.
And he did it in three completely different defensive schemes with three different defensive coordinators.
Worrilow has the same kind of talent. The big difference is that the Falcons lucked out and were able to sign him as an undrafted free agent instead of spending a first-round pick on him.
Worrilow does have a similar size and speed profile as the future Falcons Ring of Honor member. His 6'0", 230-pound frame is similar to Brooking's size in his rookie season. And his speed and agility matches Brooking's.
And so does the coverage ability and tenacity on the field. Brooking had an uncanny ability to make one-on-one tackles that few thought he was able to do.
Worrilow showed against the Panthers that he can make the same kinds of plays.
|Stat||Paul Worrilow||Keith Brooking|
It allows the Falcons to not switch out of their personnel groupings for nickel packages. Instead of running with just one talented coverage linebacker in Bartu or Weatherspoon with Akeem Dent—a natural thumper—on the field, the Falcons can have Worrilow in there as a jack of all trades.
His abilities in coverage are matched by his abilities in pass rush. While Worrilow doesn't have any sacks, he creates a ton of pressure when he blitzes just like Brooking used to.
It's been a while since the Falcons have had an athletic linebacker who could play in the middle of the defense and make plays for all three downs. In fact, they haven't had one since Brooking himself manned the middle linebacker role in 2007.
Smith said he's pleased with the maturation of Paul Worrilow. "Pleasant surprise" as a 3-down LB. #ATLvsCAR— Daniel Cox (@FalconsDCox) November 4, 2013
So, please, coach Mike Smith, let Paul "The Warlock" Worrilow be the Falcons' starting middle linebacker for the long term. You won't be sorry.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.