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Assessing the 49ers ILB Options without Patrick Willis, Chris Borland

A week ago, we published this article under a slightly different headline: "Assessing the 49ers ILB Options without Patrick Willis."

At the time, Chris Borland represented a silver lining of sorts for a San Francisco 49ers team looking to replace a potential Hall of Famer.

After all, Borland had already successfully filled in for Willis last year, leading the team with 107 tackles in 14 games (eight starts).

But seven days after Willis announced his retirement, Borland did the same on Monday, shocking the NFL community.

Now with the dust settling from Borland's decision, we figured an update of this post was in order.

Starting with NaVorro Bowman, a three-time All-Pro, and working down to Michael Wilhoite and Nick Moody, both of whom started at one point last season, the 49ers still have experience at the position. Stanford product Shayne Skov is on the roster as well, although he spent his rookie campaign on the team's practice squad.

The 49ers could also look outside of the organization in free agency or the draft to supply additional depth.

Below is a breakdown of the 49ers options following Willis and Borland's departures.

NaVorro Bowman 

After missing the entirety of the 2014 season with an ACL injury, Bowman is poised to make his long-awaited return to the field this fall. For the first time in his career, however, Bowman will not play alongside his good friend Willis, who is the godfather to his twin daughters.

In four NFL seasons prior to last year, Bowman never missed a game. Perhaps his best year was in 2013, when he recorded 145 tackles, five sacks, four forced fumbles and two interceptions, including the "Pick at the 'Stick." Bowman's ability to cover receivers and even spy running quarterbacks is what makes him one of the game's top interior play-makers on defense.

The 49ers third-round pick from 2010 is a three-time All-Pro and won the Bill Walsh award in 2013 as the team's MVP. 

Without Willis and Borland, Bowman's health becomes even more crucial to the 49ers success. If Bowman is able to return to old form, absorbing the two retirements becomes a much more managable task.

Michael Wilhoite 

Wilhoite, an undrafted free agent out of Washburn, worked his way up from the practice squad in 2012 to the starting lineup a year ago.

The 28-year-old played all 16 games in place of the rehabbing Bowman, collecting 87 tackles, two interceptions and one forced fumble. Wilhoite's best game came in Week 17 against the Arizona Cardinals, when he recorded nine tackles and picked off a pass in the red zone.

Wilhoite was a stabilizing force for the 49ers in 2014, and the team will need him to be the same reliable, fundamentally-sound veteran moving forward.

According to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, the 49ers on March 6 tendered a qualifying offer to Wilhoite, who was an exclusive-rights free agent. 

Before Willis and Bowman walked away from football, reports surfaced that the 49ers were considering trading Wilhoite this offseason. A few weeks later, however, and now Wilhoite is the clear favorite to be the team's starting "Mike" linebacker. That is, of course, barring San Francisco supplements the position in the draft or free agency.

Nick Moody

Originially a sixth-round selection in 2013, Moody garnered the first two starts of his NFL career in the final two weeks of the 2014 season after Borland suffered an ankle injury.

In those games, against the San Diego Chargers and Cardinals, Moody amassed a combined 13 tackles.

Most of the 25-year-old's playing experience has come as a coverage man on special teams. He'll look to carve out a bigger role for himself in 2015, especially with the depth chart undergoing a major makeover.

Shayne Skov

A San Francisco native, Skov was a third-team All-American his senior season at Stanford, recording 109 tackles, 5.5 sackls and three forced fumbles.

After going undrafted last spring, Skov signed with the 49ers and spent the length of traning camp with the team.

He began the year on San Francisco's practice squad before spending time on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad as well. The 49ers re-signed him in October and inked him to a reserve/futures deal in January.

Free Agency

From's full list, some of the top inside linebacker free agents still unsigned are...

Nate Irving, Denver Broncos

Casey Matthews, Philadelphia Eagles

Rolando McClain, Dallas Cowboys 

Brandon Spikes, Buffalo Bills

Mason Foster, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Lance Briggs, Chicago Bears


According to, the top inside linebacker prospects for the 2015 NFL Draft are...

Paul Dawson, TCU

Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi St.

Eric Kendricks, UCLA

Stephone Anthony, Clemson

Denzel Perryman, Miami

Ramik Wilson, Georgia

Taiwan Jones, Michigan St.

Ben Heeney, Kansas

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