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2011 49ers Grades: Larry Grant

Most everyone came to a solid agreement on Jonathan Goodwin when it came to yesterday's grades, and next we're going to take a look at an impact player who was not a starter. I chose this one from the beginning when Fooch was divvying up the grading posts, and that's because I paid a lot of attention to this guy even before he saw the field in a San Francisco 49ers uniform. Today, we'll look at inside linebacker Larry Grant.

Grant was brought in as a free agent on a one-year deal and was given the backup role after Takeo Spikes left for the San Diego Chargers and NaVorro Bowman was thrust into the starting role. Grant played in all 16 games during the regular season and each playoff game, and made three starts in place of an injured Patrick Willis.

He's now a free agent, and remains the only real backup at inside linebacker as Blake Costanzo is a pure special teamer (a very good special teamer, as evidenced by the grading post we already had on him) and Tavares Gooden seems to be finding his niche on special teams, as well. Gooden played a little on defense in 2011, but only recorded one tackle in that regard. So how did Grant perform as a backup? Let's explore after the jump.

We first saw Grant in significant action when Patrick Willis went down with a seemingly minor injury against the St. Louis Rams on Dec. 4. Willis was injured early, and taken out of the game immediately, and Grant came in to play well, with a sack and six tackles in a 26-0 49ers victory.

Grant would go on to start the next three games to close out the regular season, which would have happened even if Willis hadn't been ready. In his next game, he recorded 11 tackles and knocked down a couple passes. The following week, Grant knocked down four different passes against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Four pass deflections in a game is pretty big, showing that the 49ers aren't going to suffer in the coverage game when their range-y stars in Bowman and Willis.

Against the Seahawks, Grant had 12 tackles and recorded another sack. He didn't get a lot of playing time in the playoffs, but that's not because he'd have been a liability. In Week 17, Grant started to give up yardage and make some mistakes. He whiffed on tackles and lost himself in coverage - not on every play, mind you - enough to make a difference. He came in, played excellent, then sort of lagged behind.

Isn't that what a backup is supposed to be? The most important thing for a backup to do is not be a liability when the starter is out. The second most important thing to note is that, "Hey, it'd still be nice if you can make a bunch of big plays for us," is a mantra that applies. You want that backup to make some plays if at all possible, and that's what Grant did. Just not on a hugely consistent basis.

Personally, I'd like to sign him for a three- or four-year deal as a long-term answer as a backup, though obviously not at serious dollars. Unfortunately, he could be in line for a starting job elsewhere and could be on his way out to another team. This isn't about him potentially leaving, though, this is about grades. What'cha giving him?