Over the past few years, it has seemed like a given that San Francisco 49ers All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis will go down as the greatest linebacker in franchise history (and possibly NFL history) when his career comes to a close. Willis just turned 28 and still has plenty of great football ahead of him, but the man now lining up beside him on Sundays is legitimately forcing fans in the Bay Area to second guess that assessment.
That man is, of course, No. 53, two-time All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman.
Together, Willis and Bowman form the top inside linebacker tandem in all of football. I doubt there is a single NFL owner that wouldn’t give up and arm and a leg just to get his hands on either of the two. Willis has been named an All-Pro in each of his six NFL seasons and Bowman in two of three. Perhaps the only reason Bowman isn’t a perfect 3-for-3 is because he didn’t start as a rookie in 2010, when San Francisco had Takeo Spikes playing alongside Willis.
A former third-round pick out of Penn State, concerns over a lack of size and durability shot Bowman much further down draft boards than he ever deserved to go. It goes without saying, however, Trent Baalke and the front office couldn’t have been much happier he did. His sideline-to-sideline speed and open field tackling abilities were never in question, but after three full NFL seasons without missing a single game, it’s clear durability has never been much of an issue, either.
Like Willis, Bowman now has no weakness to his game. They are both complete linebackers that look nearly identical in live action. Stuffing the run, rushing the passer or dropping back in coverage; they can do it all.
The crazy thing is that Bowman is only three years deep into his NFL career and he’s already mirroring one of the best to ever play the game at the linebacker position. Some guys don’t even enter the league until the age of 24, yet he’s already a two-time first-team All-Pro selection. The sky is the limit, and luckily for fans of the Red and Gold, Bowman is locked up until 2019 after signing a five-year, $42.5 million extension last fall.
Aside from the seven-year, $53.51 million extension San Fran gave Willis in 2010, it’ll likely go down as the best money the franchise has ever spent on a linebacker.