Pro Football Focus recently provided a list of the 101 best players right now, and Joe Staley was the only member of the San Francisco 49ers on the list. I was not exactly shocked by that, but I was curious why NaVorro Bowman did not end up on the list. It took him some time to really get going and shake off the rust from his knee injury, but by the end of the season, he was starting to look more like the Bowman of old than the rusty Bowman that started the season. Add in that he was moving into his second season of play following the injury and is only 28, and it seems like he would fit on the list.
Well, we have an answer. On Tuesday, PFF put together an explanation for why five notable players were not in the list. The five players discussed included Bowman, DE Ezekiel Ansah, WR Larry Fitzgerald, OT Jason Peters, and RB Jamaal Charles. Fitzgerald and Peters make particular sense given that they are into their 30s. Charles remains incredibly talented, but injuries are a concern. And Ansah was on this short list because while he did have double digit sacks, his overall pressure numbers were not high enough for PFF.
As for Bowman? He has obviously been at a top 101 level previously, but PFF wants to see him take a further step forward in 2016. They point to issues in coverage in his return season. Bowman has said the knee feels even better this year, to the point that he is able to get up and go a lot quicker than last year. There were reports of extra time needed to get ready, and while Bowman tried to shoot some of them down, it would make sense he would need extra time to prepare for practice and games. But with a year under his belt and the knee getting closer to normal, he is in position to take a big step forward in 2016.
Here’s what PFF had to say about Bowman:
While Ansah is a player that hasn’t hit the 101 level yet, NaVorro Bowman is a guy who has been there and done that, just not recently enough for me to have faith that he’ll be that guy in 2016. In his defense, he was coming off a major injury in 2015, and we have seen in the past that the first year back for players (think Geno Atkins) is often just a weak imitation of the guy they have the potential to be. Regardless, Bowman was a shadow of himself in 2015, despite the tackle numbers.
The 49er was actually still very good against the run in 2015; he led all linebackers in both tackles and stops by a significant margin, but his play fell away in coverage, where he allowed 90.3 percent of passes thrown his way to be caught and a passer rating of 110.9 when targeted. Bowman at his best was a complete linebacker, but the player of 2015 was far more one-dimensional. If he rediscovers the rest of his play this year, he will jump back onto the list.