NFC South top 25: No. 15

We continue our series of my projected top 25 players in the NFC South for the 2012 season with No. 15:

Sean Weatherspoon, linebacker, Atlanta

What he did in 2011: He followed up a nice rookie season with an even better second year. Weatherspoon made 115 tackles and produced four sacks. He also fared well in coverage and was credited with eight passes defensed.

Why he’s No. 15 in 2012: Part of the reason the Falcons were willing to let middle linebacker Curtis Lofton depart was due to the fact they expect Weatherspoon to emerge. He doesn’t play the middle like Lofton, but Weatherspoon now will be expected to run this defense. Lofton was the unquestioned leader of this defense, but Weatherspoon is more than ready to step in. He’s a vocal and emotional player. He’s also a guy the Falcons are counting on to stay on the field all the time and make a lot of big plays. This division has been dominated by big-name middle linebackers in recent years. But Weatherspoon has a chance to become the division’s most potent outside linebacker since Derrick Brooks’ career ended in Tampa Bay.