In the 2013 edition of the NFL Network’s Top 100 player list, as voted on by the players in the league, a number of San Francisco 49ers figured prominently on the list. At number ten on the list was the man that is the undisputed leader of the 49ers in middle linebacker Patrick Willis.
The only 49ers player to figure higher up on the list is Aldon Smith, who came in at number seven. The fact that Willis came in the top ten on such a list is a testament to the player that he is and has become in his six years playing in the league.
When Willis came in as a rookie in 2007, having been drafted with the eleventh overall pick, he came with an impressive resume and credentials from his time at Ole Miss. From game one of his career, Willis showed why he was a two-time All-American and Butkus Award winner as he went on to be a Pro-Bowler and All-Pro player as a rookie.
During Willis’ first four seasons, he was one of the few things that 49ers could point to as something that offered hope and promise during a time of much frustration as fans were looking for the team to break out of a number of years below .500 football.
Even though the team may not been a perennial playoff contender, Willis was being recognized by many who covered and analyzed the league as one of the best middle linebackers. What has made Willis stand out and receive the accolades he has since day is that he is a complete player at the middle linebacker position.
Just as important as his play, the leadership that Willis has shown and exhibited since he came into the league has been equally impressive. Willis is the guy who before the game gives the fiery, emotional speech to get his teammates pumped up and focused in the final huddle. Along with that, it is clear that Willis commands and has the respect, attention, and ear of every single player in the locker room thus only confirming his undisputed leader status within the 49ers.
When talking about Patrick Willis, it is only fair to make parallels to another player who played the middle linebacker position and wore the number 52 in Ray Lewis. Aside from the Super Bowl titles, the football and team leadership aspects that are exhibited by Willis mirror the on-field accomplishments and leadership skills that Lewis accomplished and demonstrated.
When it comes to lists that rank players, one must take it with a grain of salt given certain biases that come into play. That said, I am glad and happy to see that those who call themselves peers of Patrick Willis have rightfully recognized him as being one of the ten best players currently in the NFL. This is an honor much deserved for such a great player.