2011 49ers Grades: NaVorro Bowman

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - NOVEMBER 20: NaVorro Bowman #53 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates after making a tackled against the Arizona Cardinals at Candlestick Park on November 20, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Thus far, Fooch has taken a look at Alex Boone and David Akers and if we've learned anything, The Captain is a total badass in every way. Also, folks seem to be pretty big on Boone as a backup and maybe a potential starter, which is good news to me. It's possible that we've about to go beyond the vote totals that Akers got today though, as we take a look at starting TED linebacker, NaVorro Bowman.

Let me preface all of this with two statements. On draft day, I called Bowman my favorite pick over the last several years, and at the end of last season, I said Bowman would still mark out to be that, but that he was woefully unprepared to start in 2011. I couldn't have been more wrong, but I stand by the reasoning that led me to that conclusion: in limited playing time, he was ridiculously bad in 2010. I don't know if there's a more drastic changes from year one to year two in San Francisco 49ers history, but damn did he prove me wrong.

Bowman was pressed into the starting job after the 49ers lost Takeo Spikes to the San Diego Chargers. San Francisco tried to retain Spikes to continue to start and slowly give way to Bowman, but the Chargers were offering more years on the contract, and with no better options in free agency, the 49ers went with Bowman. It wasn't that they weren't confident in his ability, just that he might not be ready given the state of this past offseason. Their worries were for naught.

Sacks Interceptions Tackles
G Sacks YdsL Int Yds IntTD Solo Ast Total
2011 - NaVorro Bowman 16 2 11 0 0 0 106 28 134

Aside from the tackle numbers, those stats don't look like much, right? Well that's because "aside from the tackle numbers" is a silly statement and I should be beaten for using it. Tackle numbers are always important, especially given the way that Bowman accrued them. Everyone knew that Bowman would have excellent range and top-flight speed for a linebacker, but I don't think many of us were expecting mini-Patrick Willis this quick in the game.

But that's what we got - another Patrick Willis. Bowman was great in coverage and he was a monster outside the tackles, bringing down running backs in the open field and shutting down screen plays. His biggest issues, in my opinion, came in mental mistakes. His angles aren't fine-tuned to the point where he'll save any play that could ever happen, unlike Willis. His speed and range is still probably better than Willis, though he doesn't have the strength of him. Still, Bowman was delivering harder hits this season than I'd have guessed.

The fact that an entire paragraph was just devoted to comparing him to Willis and having to use words like "probably" in relation to comparative skill-sets is the most telling part of any evaluation you can do of our second-year TED linebacker. Beat writers and commentators stumbled over their analysis at times, giving credit for a play to Willis, when in fact it was Bowman who made the open-field tackle for a three-yard loss. There are those who would say that, not only do the 49ers have the best group of inside linebackers in the NFL, they have the No. 1 and No. 2 inside linebackers in the NFL. I'm one of them.

It shouldn't be whether or not you're worried about this position or you think it needs an upgrade. It should be who we're going to give a pay cut so we can give Bowman a whole lot of money to keep these two amazing linebackers together for a very long time. Then again, we do definitely need to see if Bowman regresses at all after his only good season in the pros. My money is on that not happening, though.

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