The San Francisco 49ers strength of the team is by far the linebackers unit. The backbone of the defense as they have All-Pro talent across the board in OLB Aldon Smith, OLB Ahmad Brooks, ILB NaVorro Bowman, and ILB Patrick Willis, there is no shortage of talent at the position. However, with Bowman recovering from both a torn ACL and MCL injury, depth at the inside linebacker position is a concern.
As it currently stands the top backup inside ‘backers include ILB Michael Wilhoite, ILB Nick Moody, and versatile LB Dan Skuta. And although all of them filled in admirably during Willis’ two-game absence, the 49ers could use more depth at the position. A great way of finding young talent to groom is the NFL Draft, and with GM Trent Baalke selecting five linebackers since taking over the 49ers war room in 2010, the question remains which linebackers will he target?
In order to identify those targeted linebackers with gold helmets next to their name, we first have to take a look back at what Baalke and his scouting department have done in the past. From measurables to character concerns, Baalke has drafted all types of linebackers during his tenure as General Manager.
Baalke drafted two linebackers in the third-round in Bowman (2010) and OLB Corey Lemonier (2013). Both players played in big school conferences in the BIG 10 and SEC respectively and both ran the two fastest 40-times than the other three linebackers drafted. In addition both players knocked out 26 and 27 reps on the bench press showing off their strength in the weight room.
The other three linebackers that were drafted in later rounds include OLB Darius Fleming in the sixth-round (No. 165), OLB Cam Johnson in the seventh-round (No. 237) and ILB Nick Moody in the sixth-round (No. 180). Of the three linebackers none were shorter than 6-foot-1 or weighed less than 236 pounds. Also, all of these linebackers played on the big stage as Fleming played for Notre Dame, Johnson for Virginia, and Moody for Florida State. And despite many of their questionable 40-yard times evident by Johnson running a sub 4.8, Baalke clearly values game-film over any other measurable. So what does this all mean for the linebackers in this year’s NFL Draft? Well considering the 49ers will be in the market for an inside linebacker, two players to watch are ILB Chris Borland (Wisconsin) and ILB Shayne Skov (Stanford).
At 5-foot-11 and 248 pounds, Borland is often compared to another diminutive linebacker in MLB Zack Thomas. A tackling machine as Borland has the high-motor to run sideline-to-sideline, the Wisconsin product would be a nice young addition to the inside linebacker position. A true leader and hard worker both on and off the field, Borland’s rare combination of read-and-react style of play should bode well in DC Vic Fangio’s defense. A tenacious defender with the ability to shed blockers at the point of attack, Borland would be an ideal fit in the 49ers 3-4 scheme.
Skov is an easy target simply because he comes from the Farm. 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh’s old stomping grounds, Skov would bring a tough, physical, and aggressive attitude to Fangio’s defense. A player with limited athleticism it’s Skov’s preparation to detail and dissecting game-film which allows him to make plays on the ball naturally. A solid but not great NFL prospect, Skov should push Moody and Wilhoite for playing time as Bowman recovers from his torn MCL and ACL.