The San Francisco 49ers elected to not pick a linebacker in the 2016 NFL Draft, which surprised quite a few of us. NaVorro Bowman is not going anywhere, but there are some questions about who will fill in next to him. Michael Wilhoite and Gerald Hodges are the two primary competitors, with Shayne Skov, Ray-Ray Armstrong, and Nick Bellore likely getting snaps, but focusing on special teams.
Wilhoite and Hodges were both capable players last season in replacing Patrick Willis. We have a fairly high standard given the Bowman/Willis duo, so it is sometimes tough to completely assess the position. Wilhoite and Hodges have ceilings not approaching those of Willis and Bowman, but they are certainly capable options. I am inclined to think Hodges has a higher ceiling than Wilhoite, but part of that assessment might be from Wilhoite having spent more time on our radar in recent years.
Wilhoite chatted with SiriusXM NFL radio over the weekend, and was asked about the depth chart. He talked about the vote of confidence it would seem to offer that the team did not select an inside linebacker. He also talked about the addition of DeForest Buckner and what the combination of Buckner and Arik Armstead could mean for the defensive front.
On 49ers not drafting a linebacker:
Yea, I noticed. I think that like you said, it shows faith in us, and we do have a good unit. We have a good group of guys, about five, six deep, and I think that each and every one of us can play at any given time. I think we all bring different things, in positives and negatives, and bring different things to the team. So, I’m appreciative that they have that faith in us, and I think that we’ve earned that. I think that we’ve gone out on the field and proved it, we’re capable of playing, each one of us, and we’re capable of playing at a high level. So, like I said, appreciative of it, and now it’s time to go to work, and make each other better every day.
On being one of the veterans younger players rely on:
You know, no different than I’ve always felt. I think I’ve always played at a mature level. I talk when I’m supposed to talk. I keep my mouth shut when I’m supposed to keep my mouth shut. I try to help others as much as I can. I’m gonna give as much knowledge as I can to young guys. Me going out as a young guy, I would help other young guys if I could, if I knew what I was talking about, depending on what they were asking me. If I don’t, I’m gonna say, no I don’t, and I’m gonna go find out. I don’t feel like I carried myself too much different, other than now I can show what I can do, and I can actually go out there and know what I’m supposed to be doing and that I know how to do it, whereas before I was trying to learn, and I was asking more questions, more than giving advice.
On impressions of DeForest Buckner and what it means for the line having him and Arik Armstead:
It’s just making it a lot easier. I think last year we had some really good players already there, in Quinton Dial, Mike Purcell, Ian Williams, Glenn Dorsey, until he got hurt. So, my life has been pretty much smooth sailing since I’ve been here with the guys that’s been here. I think those guys will present a whole other dynamic in the sense that they’re 6’8, they’re tall, long, they’re putting their hands on o-linemen before o-linemen can get to them. I’m excited to see those two guys out there together. More than anything, it’ll be intimidating to offenses to look across that field and see all that height between those two and Quinton Dial. And then Ian Williams with his ability to create havoc in the backfield. So, Buckner’s a really good kid. Yes sir, no sir type of guy. Asks questions when he’s supposed to. I mean he’s listening to us when we’re giving advice. We’re talking to him so, at the the end of the day, that’s all you can ask. All you can ask is for a humble young man, a young man that’s willing to learn, and willing to ask questions when he’s supposed to, and keep his mouth shut when he’s supposed to, and I think his talent speaks for itself, in the sense that he was drafted so high. Right now, we don’t have any pads on, so we’ll see when we have pads on how dangerous he is. But I’m sure they wouldn’t have picked him up if he wasn’t as dangerous as we all think he is.