Are the 49ers’ Linebackers Still Elite?


For years the San Francisco 49ers were known for churning out All Pro linebackers. There was no question which team had the best LB corps in the entire NFL. However, it’s been a bumpy year and questions about the once great LB corps are starting to surface.

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The bumps in the road started inside at the end of the 2013 season when NaVorro Bowman suffered a gruesome injury against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship game. Bowman went on to miss the entire 2014 season, and now doubts about his return are beginning to form.

In the 2015 draft, the 49ers selected Chris Borland in the third round. It might have been for insurance for Bowman, but it could’ve also just been a best player available situation. After Patrick Willis went down with a toe injury, Borland stepped in and shined. Unfortunately the positivity was short lived.

In two surprising moves, both Willis and Borland retired one after another. Coupled with a unknown in Bowman, the 49ers could be in trouble in the middle of their defense for the first time in what seems like an eternity.

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49ers assembled a golden roster via NFL Draft despite misses
49ers assembled a golden roster via NFL Draft despite misses /

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  • On the outside, both Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks have had their problems. Smith has not shown to be the dominant force he once was after a couple suspensions. The 49ers picked up his fifth year option in hopes of him returning to form.

    After a very good 2013 season, Brooks had a very up and down season which hit an all time low when he was benched for rookie Aaron Lynch. While the one time second team All Pro’s years in the league are getting smaller, his cap hit is not. And with Lynch emerging last year, Brooks is on thin ice.

    Despite the negativity, there are something plus sides to consider.

    While it’s unlikely he’ll be like he was before the injury, even at 85% Bowman is still one of the better LBs in the league. Smith also looks like he is a changed man. He bet on himself and made a team-friendly restructure to show that he has changed his ways.

    While Michael Wilhoite might not be Willis, he is a 16 game starter that play admirably in the shadow of two first team All Pros. Also with Lynch, Corey Lemonier, and rookie Eli Harold, the 49ers have very good depth on the outside if both Smith and Brooks fail to meet expectations.

    The 49ers’ LB corps might not be as good as it was two years ago, but they still are in the top half of the league.