Each year, we run a series of post called "90-in–90" here at Niners Nation. The idea is that we’ll take a look at every single player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few different ways. This is to help give everyone a basic understanding of a roster. Of course, this roster will change, and some days we’ll have more than one so it’s not strictly one per day but Fooch is a crazy person who manages this blog with no rhyme or reason and it’s worked so far. Who am I to argue?
Michael Wilhoite is a bit of a polarizing player. Some think he’s a scrub that isn’t fit to carry Derek Smith’s jock. Yeah, that’s right. Derek Smith1. While others think that he’s a long term answer at the middle linebacker position. The truth, in this case, is somewhere in the middle.
Wilhoite ended the season with the second-most tackles on the team, behind the one-year T-Rex wonder that is Chris Borland. Wilhoite started 14 games at Jack, and 2 at the Mike2. He and Justin Smith were the only players on the 49ers defense that started all 16 games.
And yet, it only took Chris Borland half a season to surpass Wilhoite’s end of season tackle output. Looking at more advanced stats, since tackles can be inflated, is even less flattering. With a stop percentage of 55%, Wilhoite ranked 60th overall, per Football Outsiders3.
Why he might improve
This is the point of Wilhoite’s career where experience meets physical ability. He is a speedy linebacker that can track the ball well. And he now has three seasons of experience, with 18 starts under his belt. At this point in his career, he has enough experience to be more instinctive in his play.
Wilhoite has actually been a little better in coverage over his career. In 2014, he ranked 12th in cover snaps per reception, according to Pro Football Focus. In other words, he would allow a reception about once every 12 times. He even had 2 picks last year, tied for third in the NFL for linebackers. If he can improve his block shedding and recognition, he could round out into a more well-rounded linebacker.
Why he might regress
Wilhoite has consistently played with All-Pro players around him. The post-retirement era 49ers, though, look much different. If the defensive line cannot prevent linemen from getting to the second level, it could expose Wilhoite’s flaws - namely his inability to consistently get off blocks. If Bowman isn’t 100%, then that puts Wilhoite on an even bigger island. It could simply be that Wilhoite is more a product of the players around him than he is a good player himself.
Projection for 2015
Wilhoite likely won't regress or improve terribly in 2015. We know what he is: a serviceable starter that isn't going to knock your socks off. He will likely end up high on the team's tackle list due to volume. But he'll make very little noise or splash plays along the way.
For the record, I think Smith was a decent LB, but the fact that someone went through the trouble of making that video is pretty hilarious. ↩
In Fangio’s scheme, the Mike is the strong side ILB, where the Jack is the weak side ILB. ↩
Football Outsiders defines a "stop" as preventing 45% of needed yards on first down, 60% of needed yards on second down, and 100% of needed yards on third or fourth down. ↩