Patrick Willis is widely accepted across the NFL as the best ILB in the league. ESPN recently ranked Willis as not only the top ILB but the best Linebacker in the NFL period. Ranking PWilly ahead of pass rushing greats like DeMarcus Ware, James Harrison and Clay Matthews is a huge compliment considering in general pass rushers are considered much more valuable than ILBs. Willis has led the NFL in tackles three of his first four seasons in the NFL (finishing 2nd the other time) while also collecting the NFL alumni linebacker of the year award three times, one of only two players to win the award 3x (WR Andre Johnson). Willis is also the only rookie to ever win the award at any position. Scouts Inc Matt Williamson sums it up best with this quote:
“Nobody in the NFL plays their position better than Patrick Willis, and that is saying a lot. He is as good a linebacker as Peyton Manning is a quarterback, as Andre Johnson is a receiver, as Adrian Peterson is a running back. He has no weaknesses.”
After four seasons in the NFL Willis has more tackles than Ray Lewis had (595 vs. 582) sacks (15 vs. 13) and forced fumbles (8 vs. 2). It’s not as easy to compare Willis to past greats such as Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, or Jack Ham since statistics weren’t nearly as detailed during their playing days as they are today. A quick review of the stats that are available show Willis is on course to possibly become the greatest ILB in the history of the league. I won’t bore you with side by side comparisons that pit Willis vs. his current peers but trust me Willis is in a league of his own.
Willis is the best non-QB in the NFL for one simple reason; he impacts nearly every snap unlike any other player in the league. When measuring a player’s greatness you need to consider not only his positive impact on the team but any negative impacts, bad habits, and injury risk. This eliminates players like Adrian Peterson who fumbles way too much, Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson they only impact the game when they catch the ball and make a play. Pass rushers like Clay Matthews, DeMarcus Ware, and James Harrison are going after the QB all the time, Darrelle Revis & Nnamdi Asomugha can only impact a game about as much as a WR can. Willis disrupts the entire offense on each and every play from scrimmage. Willis has the speed and strength to keep up with anybody on the field and the athleticism to get past OL and apply pressure on the QB proven by his career high six sacks this past season (in limited opportunities).
This guy literally has no weakness and plays as close to mistake free football as anyone in the league. I understand the statement that Patrick Willis is the best non-QB in the NFL will be met with some skepticism. After all we’re not used to an ILB being this good. Before you write my opinion off think about this, have you ever seen Willis make a boneheaded mistake? Get thoroughly outplayed by an opponent? If you watched the last four seasons of 49er football you know the answers to those questions are no and no. Can any other player in football make that claim? I don’t think so. More good news for 49er fans, Willis is just 26 years old, best days should be ahead of him as a football player who signed a five year contract extension last season. When #52 hangs up his cleats for good I believe without hesitation Willis will be the greatest ILB in the history of the NFL. One thing is for sure it will be fun to watch the rest of this young superstar’s career.
Patrick Willis Career Stats: