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Just prior to the start of free agency, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke spoke about the team’s situation at inside linebacker and noted the team's roster consisted of four legitimate NFL starters for two positions.
“I’m not sure how you can ever look at having too much talent as a bad thing at any position,” Baalke said.
But over the course of a couple of weeks, Patrick Willis surprised the NFL world with his announced retirement due to concerns that his feet would not allow him to be pain-free and play at a continued high level. Then, Chris Borland, coming off an impressive rookie season, decided to quit the sport.
But the cupboard is not bare. NaVorro Bowman returns this season after taking the 2014 season to rehabilitate from a severe knee injury. If he can return to his three-time Pro Bowl form, the 49ers should not have many worries at this position.
Michael Wilhoite played well in his 16 games as a starter at Willis’ old position. (Willis switched to Bowman’s spot.) So the teaming of Bowman and Wilhoite is a natural fit. Wilhoite ranked third on the team in tackles for a defense that was No. 5 in the NFL. Baalke said the 49ers are in the process of trying to work out a multi-year extension with Wilhoite, an exclusive-rights free agent.
Who’s here: NaVorro Bowman, Michael Wilhoite, Nick Moody, Nick Bellore, Desmond Bishop, Shayne Skov,
Draft needs: The 49ers invested a third-round pick in this position a year ago. And all that’s happened since then is the player they selected, Borland, is no longer playing the sport, and neither is Willis. Of course, they get Bowman back, so they’re theoretically in the same spot as a year ago at this time. Inside linebackers are typically de-valued in the draft, so No. 15 overall seems high to choose a player at this position. But on Days 2 and 3, the 49ers figure to select a player who can contribute immediately on special teams while challenging for a starting role now or in the future.
Good fits: There will be plenty of options for the 49ers to address inside linebacker from Rounds 2 through 4, at least. The 49ers had known pre-draft contact with Benardrick McKinney (Mississippi State), Paul Dawson (Texas Christian) and Stephone Anthony (Clemson). Eric Kendricks (UCLA), Denzel Perryman (Miami) and Ramik Wilson (Georgia) are also worthy of strong consideration.