Earlier this week, I compared the Detroit Lions linebacking corps to the Sarlacc pit. This, of course, was to say that the Lions have a gaping hole in the middle of the field on the defensive side of the ball. Whether there's a Boba Fett-eating monster inside of it has yet to be seen. But at first glance, there doesn't appear to be a starting linebacker in there.
Obviously the Lions do have Tahir Whitehead. He’ll be expected to start without a doubt, but from there, it's a mystery. After the Lions cut DeAndre Levy last week, they went out and signed former Falcon Paul Worrilow. This left a lot of fans upset, because who is Paul Worrilow?
This was my early response, too. Then it turned into the thought that he would be a fringe player that could flex in and out. Then it turned into the thought that this guy could be starting for the Lions. Justin Rogers would later confirm these suspicions when he reacted to Worrilow’s contract numbers.
Paul Worrilow: $3M, $2.75M gtd, $750K signing bonus; salary $2M; $250K workout bonus, $1M incentive— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) March 13, 2017
That's we-expect-you-to-start money. https://t.co/0t6yZjqkhW— Justin Rogers (@Justin_Rogers) March 13, 2017
He’s right. You don't pay a backup those numbers. There's no other way around it. By all appearances, Worrilow is going to start. But should he? My sole purpose in life, this week, is to answer this question.
The answers I found were quite interesting.
If you base your hypotheses purely of the 2016 season, your answer will come up “no” every time. Worrilow missed the early part of the 2016 season with a groin injury that required surgery. By his return, rookie Deion Jones had taken his place and begun to have a notable season himself. Worrilow spent most of the year recovering. He only played 162 snaps in the 2016 season.
Now if you go back to his previous three seasons, a different story begins to form. One in which Worrilow is a three-year starter and plays snaps out the wazoo. The year to look at, in particular, is the 2014 season.
In that year, Worrilow led all Falcons defenders in snaps with 1,079. He finished fifth in the NFL in tackles with 142. Worrilow also finished the 2013 and 2015 seasons with great numbers. If you're judging on stats alone, Worrilow looks like a pretty good options.
I needed more, though. So I hopped on a midnight train to Georgia. After I ate at Gladys and Ron’s Chicken and Waffles, I got distracted trying to find out what happened to Dem Franchize Boyz. Once I regrouped, I met up with Matt Chambers of The Falcoholic to find some answers.
But as soon as I mentioned the name Paul Worrilow, Matt became a different person. He said “you want to know about Worrilow? I’ll tell you about Worrilow. Check your inbox tomorrow.” Then he just left me there outside the old WCW Headquarters.
The next day I awoke to an inbox full of Worrilow takes. In fact, I got one from every member of The Falcoholic. Without further ado, here are their thoughts:
“Worrilow is a player whose locker room respects probably earns him more time than it reasonably should on the field. He works hard and has the best attitude you could hope for, but he’s a sub-par athlete who is a nightmare in pass coverage and only mediocre in run defense. If you’re counting on him as a starter, you’re likely going to be disappointed.
Oh yeah this should be fun”
“OK, how do I put this gently…
Worrilow was the subject of much ire amongst Falcons fans, and the center of many, many jokes. Off the field, he’s an ideal player. He’s a leader in the locker room and a hard worker on the practice field. Worrilow is just an all around great dude who truly makes you want the best for him.
But, unfortunately, he’s just not a starting-caliber NFL player. I know his Combine testing tells you that he’s athletic, but he doesn’t play that way. He’s a solid tackler and that’s about it. Worrilow gets roasted in coverage by even marginal athletes at RB and TE. He can’t be relied upon at all in that area, and if you put him in coverage he’s going to get beat repeatedly.
Truthfully, he’s a solid back-up and shouldn’t be relied upon to do much else. Dan Quinn used him a bit more at WLB instead of MLB during 2016, and he was a bit better there, but he’s still not someone you want seeing a ton of snaps. On third down, he shouldn’t be anywhere near the field.”
“There is a lot to be said about Worrilow as a leader and a locker room guy. Especially with the way he helped the young Atlanta linebackers this season, despite the fact that it ultimately cost him his job. He's a selfless guy with a lot of heart.
However, his grit and grind can only get him so far. He is decent when you put him close to the line of scrimmage and when he only has to run in a straight line to make a tackle, but the further away he gets from the line and the more laterally he has to move, he gets worse and worse. While he is a great get for the locker room in Detroit and a guy who can lead some of the younger guys that the Lions have/will have on defense, he isn't a consistently serviceable NFL linebacker.
Tons of grit, though. TONS of grit.”
“I was a huge fan of Paul Worrilow after his rookie year. He replaced Akeem Dent, who was not only slow but couldn’t tackle. Worrilow was a pretty solid tackler, and I was really excited to see how he develops. Surely he could put on some weight, better understand a pro playbook, and the game would slow down for him. He added a ton of muscle one offseason, did UFC training in another, and yet never came close to his rookie performance.
Some people may think, “oh, this guy is just a little slow but is a great run stuffer.” That’s half true. He’s very, very slow. He’s also outmatched in the run game, and gets bowled over more often than he makes a big hit. I can probably sum it up best with Atlanta fan reactions to his new contract being mostly: “wow.”
“Listen: I’m happy Paul Worrilow was able to earn himself a nice chunk of change after coming into the league as an undrafted free agent. He’s undoubtedly a hard worker and had no issue in helping Deion Jones make the transition to the NFL. Unfortunately, Worrilow’s an example of the harsh reality that sometimes our best just isn’t good enough. It’s difficult to be a starting-caliber linebacker in the league if you’re on the smaller side and you’re not athletic enough to make up for it.”
A moment to breathe
Wow! Thank guys. Sorry to bring this burden upon your home. The whole way back to Michigan, all I could think about was how surprised I was to see these takes on Worrilow. It’s pretty clear that the stats are quite misleading.
What was nice to hear is that Worrilow doesn’t at all seem to be the guy that’s going to give up. He has grit and can be a leader. That sort of thing is important in the locker room, but I can’t help but wonder why the Lions would pay Worrilow the money he’s slated to make if he’s only going to be a locker room guy.
Only time will tell on this, but for now, if I have to make a final ruling, I say the Lions had better assess their options come the NFL Draft next month. Worrilow can start, but this should not be a long-term thing by any means. Just because he can, doesn’t mean he should. Let’s hope Bob Quinn knew what he was doing here.