The San Francisco 49ers’ defense has a number of big name players such as Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith, and Justin Smith. Those players are household names that everyone around the nation has heard of. But the casual football fan might not know of NaVorro Bowman.
On any other team, NaVorro Bowman would be the star and the anchor of the defense. Coaches would build defenses around him and play to his strengths. But on the 49ers, Bowman lives in the shadow of Patrick Willis. Willis has played at such a high level for such a long time, that it will take Bowman quite a bit longer to overtake him in the LB rankings. Although, there are debates within the 49ers’ fan base about which Inside Linebacker is better. I’m not going to pick sides, but just the fact that someone could make the argument that Bowman is better than Willis and you don’t get the urge to slap them is an accomplishment in its own right.
Bowman was drafted in the third round of the 2010 draft out of Penn State University. He did not start his rookie year because Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes were in front of him on the depth chart. After the 2010 season, Coach Jim Harbaugh came in with his staff and decided not to re-sign Spikes and promote Bowman to the starter along side of Willis. It was a decision that the 49ers have not looked back from.
No one expected Bowman to play the way he did. He exploded onto the scene and shook up the NFL. In 2011, he lead the team in tackles and was second in the league in solo tackles. Many fans don’t realize that Bowman was one of the main cogs of the dominant 2011 49ers’ defense that didn’t allow a single rushing touchdown or a 100 yard rusher until week.
In 2012, Bowman continued his elite play and is most remembered for coming up with an important pass breakup on 4th down against the Falcons in the NFCCG that sealed the victory. His play was awarded with a position on the all pro first team next teammate Patrick Willis, and during the off-season Bowman earned a five year contract extension.
Four games into 2013, and it doesn’t look like Bowman is going to slow down anytime soon. With Patrick Willis out against the Rams, Bowman accepted the the #1 role and took over the game. In that game he had a combined six tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble. He knew he had to step up with Willis injured, and he delivered beautifully.
Bowman is a one of a kind type of player. You don’t see star linebackers still running down the field on special teams very often. And although Bowman might occasionally be overshadowed by his defensive teammates, he is an elite player. He is head and shoulders above the rest of the competition and in a few years, he might take the reigns of the defense away from Patrick Willis.