The bad news for K.J. Wright is that, despite a stellar season during which he was one of the best players on one of the NFL's best defenses, he still missed out on Pro-Bowl honors. The good news, however, is that if current trends hold up, he'll only be better next year and the year after that.
"If you look at my career, each year, I've gone up," Wright said. "Each year I've improved. So I don't know, I guess I'm kind of like a fine wine, the older I get, the better I get."
And Wright is accurate in his evaluation of his career thus far. A starter since his rookie season, Wright has always been a very good player, but each season, and especially this year, he seems to take another leap in his level of play. In every season but 2013, when he missed three games, Wright has seen his tackle total increase, and this year he finished with a career highs in tackles (126), sacks (4.0), tackles for loss (12), and his five passes defensed tied a career high.
"K.J. has been amazing," said middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, who himself enjoyed a career-year with an NFL-leading and franchise-record 167 tackles. "He had career bests in pretty much everything—tackles, sacks, TFLs—he has just been all over the place. He deserves a lot more respect, a lot more attention than he has been getting. He's definitely one of the best linebackers in this league. He just makes plays. Every time you watch film, you see number 50 shooting his spider webs. He has been amazing."
When it comes to Wright, what stands out most is his ability to know what's coming before the play happens, allowing him to create havoc in the backfield. That knack for sensing what is coming led to former linebacker's coach Ken Norton Jr. dubbing Wright "Spider-Man," and Wright's spider senses have never been stronger than this season, resulting in those career-high numbers.
"He's amazing," Wagner said. "He's one of the best. He sniffs everything out. We call him the screen master. Nobody runs screens to his side anymore, because he knows what's coming.
"He's a really smart player. He's going to be coach one day. He'll probably be a defensive coordinator right after he retires."
Added defensive coordinator Kris Richard: "When he steps out there on the field, he has a really good sense of his surroundings. He knows what's going on, and that just comes with countless hours of film study and a really good week of preparation."
While film study is important, it's not the only reason Wright is such an intelligent and instinctive player. Wright says the real secret to his success isn't film study—though that's important too—but rather the time he spends playing EA Sports' Madden NFL video game.
"I'm a real good offensive coordinator on Madden," Wright said. "I know what to call in certain situations, so therefore I think like offensive coordinators think, so I'm able to make the plays."
And like a fine wine, Wright plans on only getting better going forward.