Eric Weddle: Overrated or Underappreciated?
As for sacks per game, in 2009 Weddle had 1.5. This tied him for fourth best in the NFL, and with the top three safeties above him posting just 2 sacks, he’s certainly holding his own with the best free safeties in the NFL in this stat category. The majority of free safeties in the NFL did not register a sack in 2009.
Looking at the current free safeties in the league, clearly Weddle is at the top of the pack. He’s third in tackles per game, fourth in sacks per game, and a little better than average in interceptions.
But where does he rank against the G.O.A.T. free safety, Ronnie Lott? It wouldn’t be fair to compare Lott’s stellar 14-year career stats to Weddle, so let’s just look at Lott’s first three years in the NFL vs. Weddle’s first three years. In Lott’s first three years, he posted an incredible 4.3 INT/game, with 1 sack, and 4 TDs – 3 of which he returned for touchdowns, becoming the second rookie in NFL to accomplish that feat. Comparatively, Weddle has posted 1.3 INT/game, 3.5 sacks and 1 TD.
Of course, Lott went on to earn 10 Pro Bowl invites at 3 different positions (CB, FS, SS) and twice led the league in interceptions. His career high was 10 INTs in 1986 with the 49ers. By the end of his career, Lott had five seasons of at least 100 tackles, recorded 9 interceptions, 89 tackles, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and two touchdowns in 20 playoff contests. Lott was named All-Pro eight times, All-NFC six times, and All-AFC once, and drafted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2000. Lott is unequivocally believed to be the greatest (and toughest) free safety in NFL history.
So, while Weddle might not yet be posting Ronnie Lott numbers, he is actually at the top of the list of current NFL free safeties. It appears he actually outperforms his reputation, and is one of the unheralded top safeties in the league. Additionally, there is an intangible in Weddle’s play – a certain gusto, an ability to smell out the ball, a love for the game, a humble yearning to exalt his teammates rather than himself, and an energy and hustle that is exactly was is required from a top NFL free safety.
Weddle plays like the 2010 Padres – he’s just what’s needed. Fans might not notice him lighting up the field all night, but just when you need him, he shows up – like he did when he picked off Peyton Manning one-handed to deny Indy a potential game-winning TD in the 2007 Chargers Divisional Playoff win on January 2008. Or his head’s up play last year against Miami when he returned his first-career INT for a TD (31 yards) and earned the Game Ball.
On January 3, 2009, San Diego hosted one of their greatest playoff games of all time. The scrappy 8-8 Chargers defeated the vaunted Indianapolis Colts in a fantastic, overtime Divisional win at the Q. Weddle posted 7 tackles in that game, and participated in one of San Diego’s greatest defensive stands ever against the NFL offensive powerhouse Colts. On The Jim Rome Show the next day, Weddle spent most of the interview giving credit to Mike Scifres and other members of the Chargers team, and spent time reveling in his college team’s (Utah) recent big win. He continually pointed the spotlight away from himself and onto others. Jim Rome commented during that interview that the Chargers “had drafted a real football player.” “I’m striving to be one of the best safeties in this league,” Weddle said during that interview, and looking at his stats, attitude and ability, it seems Weddle is well on his way to attaining that goal.