At first thought inside linebacker doesn't appear to be of need. Both Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman are coming off their second straight All-Pro seasons and both are locked up contractually for the next few years. However, their back-ups Larry Grant and Tavares Gooden are both scheduled to be free agents at season's end making drafting an ILB for depth and special teams a strong possibility.
Quarterback | Running Back | Outside Linebackers | Offensive Line
Top 10 Inside Linebackers:
#1: Manti Te’o 6-2 255lbs – Notre Dame Stock: Falling Projection: Top 20
#2: Alec Ogletree 6-3 234lbs – Georgia Stock: Rising: Projection: 1-2 round
#3: Kevin Minter 6-1 245lbs – LSU Stock: Rising Projection: 1-2 round
#4: Arthur Brown* 6-1 228lbs – Kansas State Stock: Rising Projection: 1-2 round
#5: Nico Johnson* 6-2 245lbs – Alabama Stock: Steady Projection: 3rd round
#6: Jon Bostic* 6-1 246lbs – Florida Stock: Steady Projection: 3rd round
#7: Kevin Riddick* 6-2 240lbs – North Carolina Stock: Falling Projection: 4th round
#8: Kiko Alonso* 6-3 242 lbs – Oregon Stock: Steady Projection: 5th round
#9: A.J. Klein** 6-2 244lbs – Iowa State Stock: Rising Projection: 5th round
#10: Bruce Taylor 6-2 244lbs – Virginia Tech Stock: Steady Projection: 6th round
*Accepted Senior Bowl invite.
**Accepted East-West Shrine Game invite.
Last off-season the 49ers signed both Larry Grant and Tavares Gooden to one year deals worth $1.2 million and $700k respectively. I’m not sure the Niners will want to up Grant’s salary given the rarity that Willis and Bowman leave the field. Gooden has been an integral part of one of a great special teams unit since 2011. He did field a few offers last season before decided to re-up with the Niners. It wouldn’t shock me to see one or both leave for more playing time or an increase in salary.
Now that we know the back-up roles at ILB might need to be replaced we can look at this year’s draft for a possible addition. Since it’s unlikely that the 49ers will draft a ILB before round four or five we can narrow our focus to those listed seventh and on.
When you consider the types of players GM Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh like to target late in drafts, the picture can get even clearer. The mold usually fits the follow characteristics: Hard, physical players with non-stop motor and smart, character guy on the field and in the classroom.
Kevin Riddick from UNC has all the skills but has developed a reputation of giving up on plays. On tape he can be scene riding out blocks as the play gets away from him and in some cases just stopping altogether. He’ll need a good Senior Bowl to shed that reputation.
Kiko Alonso might be the best cover linebacker in the draft. He’ll need to learn to play ‘downhill’ more if he lines up inside. Scouts believe he’s athletic enough and possess above average coverage skills to play all three LB positions in a 4-3. It’s unlikely he’ll be selected by a 3-4 team.
My ideal fit for the 49ers would be Iowa State’s A.J. Klein. Klein is a hard-nosed, physical football player that plays angry. He amassed 98 tackles in 2012 and earned a unanimous selection to the AP All Big12 team and Big12 co-defensive player of the year. While he lacks elite sideline to sideline speed and can be a liability in coverage, Klein can diagnose players with easy and is quick to hit his gaps. Klein would make an excellent special teamer and back-up in the Niners system. He’s also a three-time Academic All Big12 honoree which you know Harbaugh will love.