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49ers depth chart 2017: Are they better, worse or the same at linebacker?

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The 49ers are making big changes on defense, but expect plenty still from the linebackers.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers are overhauling much of their roster, and the linebacker positions are seeing it as much as anywhere. The 49ers switched to a 4-3, which means one fewer linebacker in the base defense. But it’s in the personnel that we are seeing massive changes.

Heading into the offseason workout program, the 49ers starting linebackers were NaVorro Bowman in the middle, and Ahmad Brooks and Malcolm Smith on the outside. The 49ers then drafted Reuben Foster, although it seemed like the initial plan would have been for some rotation.

Fast forward to Week 1, and the 49ers starting linebackers are going to be Bowman, Foster, and Eli Harold. Malcolm Smith’s injury helped Foster, but he was such an immediate impact player in training camp that he was clearly moving in the right direction. On the other hand, the decision to release Ahmad Brooks caught plenty of us by surprise. It was not a shocking development given his age and the 49ers youth movement. And yet, given his tenure with the 49ers, it still caught me off guard.

2016 LB depth chart

NaVorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks, Eli Harold, Ray-Ray Armstrong, Gerald Hodges, Nick Bellore, Michael Wilhoite, Tank Carradine

2017 LB depth chart

NaVorro Bowman, Reuben Foster, Eli Harold, Ray-Ray Armstrong, Dekoda Watson, Brock Coyle

The question of improvement or not comes down to projections. Every year is about projections, but the 49ers have a lot of questions facing this group. Foster has shined, but he is still a rookie. Bowman is coming off his second major leg injury. Harold is back to a weight he is comfortable with, but this is first time as a full-time starter. There is a lot of talent in this group, but a lot of questions. Can they produce come Sunday?


Are the 49ers better, worse, or the same at linebacker compared to the start of 2016?

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