***** linebacker Patrick Willis is AP's top defensive rookie
By BARRY WILNER, AP Football Writer
January 4, 2008

NEW YORK (AP) -- 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 ***** 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 honor.

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.

Willis is the third ***** 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 Baltimore.