The 49ers have a star-studded defense with names like Patrick Willis, Aldon and Justin Smith, and Ahmad Brooks just to name a few. But NaVorro Bowman may be the best, and most important player out of all of them.
With back-to-back seasons being named to the AP’s first-team All-Pro squad and leading the team in tackles, he is entering the prime of his career at age 25. Bowman continued that play into the playoffs, putting up dominant performances and anchoring the defense before ultimately shredding his knee (tearing both his ACL and MCL) in the NFC Championship game against Seattle.
On Tuesday he had surgery to repair his ACL, performed by Dr. James Andrews. His MCL is expected to heal with rest. With an average recovery time of six to eight months, and the regular season set to begin in seven, it’s going to be a real stretch to imagine he will be ready for Week 1. Even if he does rehab ahead of schedule and is ready for that first game, there’s no telling how effective he will be without any football contact or action all offseason.
We have seen cases like Adrian Peterson, where a player comes back stronger than ever. And we have also seen cases where a player may think he’s ready, but really isn’t. I think it’s safe to say the 49ers will be looking at at least a month into the season until Bowman is fully ready to compete at the level he has been playing at the past two seasons.
With that brings the question of replacing him. Backup inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite recorded 34 tackles this season, starting two games for an injured Patrick Willis and has experience on special teams coverage. Internally, he would be the most likely option to fill in for Bowman until he is capable of playing full time.
Nick Moody is another name at the inside linebacker spot to look at. Moody was drafted in the sixth round of the 2013 draft out of Florida State. He was injured in the first game against Green Bay and missed a handful of games, but overall wasn’t used much, recording only two tackles all year.
I think Wilhoite is a quality option, it will be his third year with the team, and he knows the defensive scheme and what is asked of him. I don’t think you’ll see the 49ers go out in free agency and pick up a veteran to fill in and start, but I could see them adding a vet to bring some depth at the position. I could also see them using a late round pick on an inside linebacker, considering they have 11 to use.
No matter what they decide to do, losing Bowman is devastating, not only on the field, but in the locker room as a leader and to the fans who love seeing him dominate week in and week out.
To read more about the 49ers’ offseason injury issues, click here.
Tuesday, Bowman Tweet a photo of himself prior to surgery.