49ers Roster, 90-in-90 breakdowns: Patrick Willis

Kevin C. Cox

Breaking down the 90 players on the 49ers offseason roster in 90 posts (over 90 or so days or in however long we feel like it). Today we focus on inside linebacker Patrick Willis.

Each year, we like to run a series of posts called "90-in-90." The idea is that we'll take a look at every player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few ways. This roster will certainly change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not exactly 90 players in 90 days. At this point, it's a name we're keeping around for street cred.

San Francisco 49ers middle linebacker, Patrick Willis, has been thought of as one of the best linebackers in the league since his rookie year. He has been a star on the defensive side of the ball from day one as evidenced by being selected to seven straight Pro Bowls and being selected as an All-Pro five times in seven years.

NaVorro Bowman came on the scene in 2011, starting all 16 games and giving Willis a partner holding down the linebacker position, but Willis is still the leader on defense. There has been talk of whether Bowman is a better middle linebacker than Willis is at this point in time, but the fact the Willis is still doing what he is doing at his age is a testament to his work ethic and his ability.

Why he might improve:

With Bowman recovering from his injury, and Willis being motivated to continue at the pace that he has been playing at since he came into the league, it is safe to say that Willis should take a step forward. There have been discussions about whether Willis has lost a step and when he covered some tight ends last year, it certainly looked like that was possible, but it was common knowledge that Willis was fighting through injuries. Willis is out to prove his doubters wrong and should have a chance to do so with Bowman missing a significant portion of the season due to his injury in the NFC Championship Game.

Why he might regress:

Willis is 29 years old and has only missed six games in his career. Seven years in the NFL and playing a large number of snaps due to the fact that the offense struggled to stay on the field in the first half of his career has created the thought that maybe Willis has technically played more than his seven years in the league. Without Bowman in the middle to pressure the quarterback, Willis’ responsibilities will increase and he may not physically be able to do what is asked of him.

Chances he makes the roster:

100%.

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