NEW YORK -- One NFL scout called linebacker Patrick Willis
"a beast." And that was before Willis won The Associated Press
2007 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Willis' dominant performance could have been overlooked because
his San Francisco 49ers went 5-11 in a mediocre division. Instead,
his league-leading 174 tackles and presence all over the field made
him a runaway winner and the fifth straight linebacker to take the
Willis earned 48 votes Friday from a nationwide panel of 50
media members who regularly cover the NFL. Only Carolina linebacker
Jon Beason, with two, also received votes.
"It's confirmation of what you've been doing as an
individual," Willis said. "From an individual perspective, it
would be good for people that doubted, or didn't know if you could
be a No. 1 draft pick, or if you could come into the league and do
well because of your size or where you might have played ball at
... and show them that if you put your mind to it, you're capable
Willis certainly looked capable of just about anything as he did
just about everything in 2007. The 11th overall draft pick from
Mississippi was a dynamic presence from the first practice with the
49ers, and by season's end, opponents were scheming to avoid him.
It didn't work very often, witness his total tackles and four
sacks and his ability to disrupt the opposition. He made 11 tackles
in the season opener and had at least 10 in 10 games. His high was
20 against Tampa Bay, when Willis also had two sacks.
"The good Lord has blessed me with skills that are uncommon,
but are just something that I do naturally," he said. "I also
know I couldn't do it by myself, without help from my fellow
linebackers or that D-line. Knowing that, I just stay humble.
Whether it's in the movies or whether it's in real life, you see
guys that got bigheaded, and they're in for a rude awakening."
Willis is the third 49ers player to win the award, joining
tackle Dana Stubblefield (1993) and cornerback Bruce Taylor (1970).
He also continued the run of linebackers earning the honor. The
previous four were: DeMeco Ryans of Houston, Shawne Merriman of San
Diego, Jonathan Vilma of the New York Jets, and Terrell Suggs of