Sean Weatherspoon ranks as Big 12's No. 15 player

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

No. 15

Disappointment about Sean Weatherspoon's projected NFL draft status prompted him to return to school for his senior season.

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel couldn't be happier.

After being a Butkus Award finalist and a unanimous first-team All-Big 12 player last season for the Tigers, Weatherspoon is back for his senior season, intent on proving to NFL scouts wrong.

His development will be critical for a Missouri program that was decimated by losses to graduation and the NFL. If the Tigers have any hope of a big season and return to the Big 12 title game, Weatherspoon will be a big part of it.

Player: Sean Weatherspoon
Team: Missouri
Position: Linebacker
Vitals: 6-foot-2, 245 pounds; Sr.; Jasper, Texas

Why he was picked: Weatherspoon led the Big 12 with an average of 11.1 tackles per game, producing a total of 155 stops that was the second-most in Missouri football history. Led the team with seven pass deflections and produced three interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns. Also produced a team-leading 18.5 tackles for loss, five sacks and forced two fumbles. Weatherspoon capped the season with a 17-tackle effort that earned him Defensive Most Valuable Player honors in the Tigers' Alamo Bowl victory over Northwestern. But as impressive as Weatherspoon's production has been, his leadership in Dave Steckel's defense is even more important. He is the heart of the Missouri defense.

What 2009 will hold: Weatherspoon could contend for national awards like the Butkus and Bednarik awards if he has another huge season and helps the Tigers remain in contention in the North Division despite some huge personnel losses. His chances to impress pro scouts also will be important as he needs to do a better job of shedding blockers to prove he will be accomplished at the next level. If he can develop that trait and the Tigers surprise naysayers along the way, Weatherspoon could finish as Missouri's leading career tackler and a potential All-American.

The countdown:

16. Baylor LB Joe Pawelek
17. Oklahoma State QB Zac Robinson
18. Texas WR-KR Jordan Shipley
19. Oklahoma RB Chris Brown
20. Nebraska I-back Roy Helu Jr.
21. Texas Tech DT Colby Whitlock
22. Kansas WR-KR Dezmon Briscoe
23. Oklahoma DE Jeremy Beal
24. Kansas S Darrell Stuckey
25. Texas Tech RB Baron Batch
26. Kansas QB-WR Kerry Meier
27. Texas T Adam Ulatoski
28. Oklahoma State LB Andre Sexton
29. Missouri G Kurtis Gregory
30. Missouri RB Derrick Washington
31. Texas Tech LB Brian Duncan
32. Texas S Earl Thomas
33. Kansas State WR-KR Brandon Banks
34. Oklahoma LB Keenan Clayton
35. Baylor S Jordan Lake
36. Oklahoma State CB-KR Perrish Cox
37. Texas C Chris Hall
38. Texas Tech DE-DT McKinner Dixon
39. Kansas State DE Brandon Harold
40. Oklahoma FB Matt Clapp