San Francisco 49ers Strike Gold, As Does Patrick Willis

Jake D'AgostinoCorrespondent IMay 18, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO - DECEMBER 14:  Linebacker Patrick Willis #52 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts after sacking Kurt Warner #13 of the Arizona Cardinals at Candlestick Park on December 14, 2009 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Over the past few years, many standout players have emerged onto the scene and become some of football's best and most exciting players.

Among them have been Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, DeSean Jackson, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Jake Long, Jonathan Stewart, Darelle Revis, Michael Griffin, and Jon Beason.

However, there is one guy that entered the league at the same time as these guys, and has not been receiving the kind of attention he deserves.

That is not to say that he is completely overlooked, but rather, has not garnered the type of respect that he has earned.

For the San Francisco 49ers, who drafted Patrick Willis 11th overall in the 2007 NFL Draft, he has been leader by example, both on and off the field.

Willis has been known to dominate opposing offenses, often requiring a double team. From the middle linebacker position, No. 52 captained a defense that was ranked sixth overall against the run in 2009.

Willis has made it clear that he is an incomparable force, as offenses have had quite a hard time maneuvering around him.

Over the course of his first three years in the NFL, Willis has made 467 tackles, easily taking the 49ers seasonal tackling crown all three years.

In addition, he has sacked opposing quarterbacks nine times and has forced six fumbles in his young career.

He also provides challenges for offenses when in coverage, having broken up 23 passes and intercepting another four, two of which he has taken back for scores.

Yet, Willis still does not have the notoriety of an Adrian Peterson or a DeSean Jackson.

They may be slightly more talented than Willis, at least in some people's opinions, but even mediocre players like JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn have received more attention than Willis.

In my opinion, this is an absolute travesty.

"Bam-Bam", as Willis has been dubbed by Chad Ochocinco, has never gained the reputation that he is due, but the voters have always looked upon him favorably.

Willis is the only person in history to win the Butkus Award at two different levels. The Butkus Award is annually given to the top linebacker at the high school, collegiate, and professional level.

Willis was able to win it as a college player at the University of Mississippi in 2006, and in the pros with the Niners in 2009.

Additionally, Willis was able to take home both the Jack Lambert Award and the Conerly Trophy back in his days at Ole Miss.

The former Rebel is also a two-time All-American, having earned the distinction in 2005 and 2006. He was also named All-SEC those same two years, and was the 2006 SEC Defensive Player of the Year.

His college success has translated in the pros.

Willis is a three-time Pro-Bowler and was selected as first team All-Pro on two separate occasions. The one year that he was not deemed first-team All-Pro, he was a second team selection.

Furthermore, he was the 2007 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and is a two-time recipient of the NFL Alumni Linebacker of the Year award.

Sure, he will never gain the publicity of a Ray Lewis or a Shawne Merriman, as he is not a big talker.

But Bam-Bam is a born leader and a fantastic and effective performer, putting him on par with even the best.

His Mississippi coach Ed Orgeron once said of him, "Patrick Willis leads by example. He is not a big talker. He just gets in there and does his job every day and makes everybody around him better."

This is just the mentality that San Francisco coach Mike Singletary, who is a Hall of Fame linebacker himself, loves to see in his players.

Of Willis Singletary said, "I am very proud of what Pat has been able to accomplish. He is the epitome of what the 49ers is all about. Pat has had to overcome a lot in his life and has maintained the ability to stay focused on his goals.

"Before it is all said and done, he may go down as one of the best to play his position. I am thankful that our organization has realized Pat is one of the core pieces to this puzzle, and I am excited for our community, fans, coaches, and players, that we will have Pat here for a very long time."

This quote came after Willis and the 49ers agreed to terms on a five-year, $50 million contract extension, locking up Willis' future in San Francisco through 2016. Of this hefty sum, $29 million are guaranteed to Willis.

Willis is by no means an unknown talent, but has never really been given as much fame as some of the other guys that he was drafted along with.

Now, it appears that someone has finally noticed his potential and value to the team.

Pat possesses an uncanny combination of strength and speed, as well as natural football instincts, making him one of the best tacklers, in addition to players in the NFL.

Willis is one of the most praiseworthy players in the NFL due to his talent and character. He has always been deserving of a reward for his hard work, and now he has finally gotten it.

The San Francisco 49ers hit the jackpot when they plucked Patrick Willis from the draft board with the 11th overall pick back in 2007.

Now, after countless hours of rigorous training and exceptional play, Willis has at last received his pay day, too.


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