The 300: #22 Patrick Willis

You know that a player is a good one when their retirement takes people by surprise – which is exactly what happened with today’s entry.

NFL CAREER

San Francisco 49ers (2007-2014)

 

POSITION 

Linebacker

 

WHY IS HE IMPORTANT?

Sometimes an NFL player becomes so dominant at their position that it becomes almost unthinkable that they might not be in the League one day. Often, that player’s star will understandably dim towards the end of their career, as time and the NFL life take their toll. But some get out at the top of their game, often surprising people by going ‘too soon’. Patrick Willis was one such player.

Willis was the premier linebacker in his college class, winning both the college Dick Butkus Award and the Jack Lambert Award, given to the outstanding linebacker of that year. The 49ers had no hesitation in taking him with the 11th pick of the 2007 Draft.

In his rookie season, Willis led the NFL in tackles made and was named to the Pro Bowl. Indeed, he was a Pro Bowl selection in each of his first six seasons in the League. In 2009, he won the pro football version of the Butkus.

Other players in the defensive backfield make their names through interceptions and sacks. Whilst Willis was no slouch in those areas (he is credited with 8 interceptions and 20.5 sacks over his career), it was as a tackler that he made his name. He ended his time in the NFL with 950 of them, an average of over 130 per season. Although he missed most of the 2014 season with a toe injury, his retirement before the 2015 season started still came as a significant surprise to all in the League, who were expecting him to be back and flattening running backs well into the latter half of the decade.

Richard O’Hagan

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Richard O'Hagan
Writer on such diverse topics as sport, music, theatre, law and politics. Author of 'Eddie the Sheep'. Supporter of underachieving teams, including the Chicago Bears from before that brief, heady, period in the mid-1980s when they were actually any good. All I want for Christmas is a Jim McMahon away shirt.
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    You know that a player is a good one when their retirement takes people by surprise – which is exactly what happened with today’s entry. NFL CAREER Sa
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