Sure, big name rookies like Kiko Alonso (Buffalo Bills), Tyrann Mathieu (Arizona Cardinals), Star Lotulelei (Carolina Panthers) and Sheldon Richardson (New York Jets) may take up all the headlines as far as defensive rookies from the 2013 NFL Draft can. And you can’t diminish their value to their respective teams: Alonso is having one of the best seasons ever for a rookie linebacker, Mathieu has helped turnaround the Cards’ secondary, and Lotulelei and Richardson have been major reasons the Panthers and Jets have had such success stopping the run this year. Lost in the shuffle of stud defensive rookies is linebacker Paul Worrilow for the Atlanta Falcons.
Worrilow went undrafted out of the University of Delaware before signing with the Falcons after the 2013 NFL Draft. Why did he go undrafted? He is somewhat undersized, not explosive, isn’t an elite athlete, isn’t very fast, played against poor competition, etc. You name it, the scouts thought it. It’s not terribly surprising he went undrafted; guys that haven’t been playing against BCS competition regularly carry a stigma about them that they must not have been good enough for it. That’s a myth to conquer another day.
Well, Worrilow impressed enough during camp to make the team, which in itself is quite an accomplishment. Some people fail to realize it’s hard enough to make the team when you’re a fifth round pick much less an undrafted afterthought. Worrilow began the season as a backup to all three linebacker spots, but didn’t stop there.
Due to a combination of injuries and poor play, Worrilow eventually found himself in the starting lineup. He hasn’t looked back since.
His first game as a starter saw him make 19 tackles. His second game as a starter? 19 tackles. In his first two games starting he became only the second Falcon to record 15 or more tackles in a game twice during a season, joining the effervescent Jessie Tuggle. All in all, he’s racked up 63 tackles in his first four games as a starter giving him 80 on the season, 19 more than safety William Moore who’s second on the team with 61.
Even with star linebacker Sean Weatherspoon returning from injury, expect Worrilow to keep his place in the starting lineup along with fellow undrafted rookie linebacker Joplo Bartu (third on the team in tackles).
Oh, and if you’re not a fan of Worrilow by now, know this: in 2011 he saved a 23 year old leukemia patient’s life by donating peripheral blood stem cells.
Let’s see: hungry, tough, productive linebacker who loves beating the odds, and is also a good human to boot? The NFL needs more guys like him. He should be the guy kids model themselves after, not the guys who are constantly getting arrested who spend their off-time at the strip clubs making it ‘rain’ all while carrying concealed weapons.
Will Worrilow win the Defensive Rookie of the Year? Probably not because the guys I listed earlier are the headline names and are on teams that are actually in contention. But even if he doesn’t win the ROY award, that shouldn’t diminish what he’s accomplished this year.
I think the Falcons may have found themselves a long term starter at linebacker.