The Atlanta Falcons‘ defense suffered a crucial blow when star OLB Sean Weatherspoon suffered another season-ending injury. Weatherspoon was supposed to team up with 2013 sensations Paul Worrilow and Jopolo Bartu to solidify the second level of Atlanta’s defense, but they will now have to find a replacement for Weatherspoon in 2014. That could come in the form of seventh-round draft pick Yawin Smallwood.
Smallwood, a 6-foot-2, 246 pound inside linebacker, is a traditional inside backer who is a run defender, but struggles in coverage. Smallwood has excellent size for an inside linebacker and plays the position well using his eyes and instincts to find the football and lay a bone-jarring hit.
Smallwood does not have elite athleticism by any means and struggles in coverage because of this. His lateral movement skills are quite weak, and he allows backs and receivers to get over-the-top on him too easily leading to a big gain for the offense. He also needs to become a much more consistent tackler overall and must work on his tackling technique to properly wrap up ball carriers at the next level.
Smallwood does have the pedigree as a three-year starter for the University of Connecticut and is a respected captain who plays with leadership and is not afraid to voice his opinion. He is very smart and has a high football IQ to diagnose plays before they happen.
Smallwood is in-line to work into the rotation this season with the starting unit, but he will have to earn his job as the team’s starting inside linebacker. Atlanta has numerous in-house options with fellow rookie LB Marquis Spruill and veteran LB Tim Dobbins also battling for the job.
Atlanta now has some flexibility this season and can shift Worrilow or Bartu into the middle of the defense allowing one of their rookies to take over as one of the team’s outside backers, a far less demanding role.
Look for Smallwood’s immediate impact to come via special teams.
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