Ranking NaVorro Bowman Among the League's Top ILBs After Monster Deal
The San Francisco 49ers made sure Tuesday that their dominant duo of inside linebackers would be playing in the red and gold for the foreseeable future.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the 49ers locked up NaVorro Bowman with a five-year, $45.25 million extension, including $25.5 million in guarantees. Fellow inside linebacker Patrick Willis is signed through the 2016 season.
Bowman, a 2011 All-Pro selection who would have been a free agent after the 2013 season, is now under contract through 2018.
The deal makes Bowman one of the highest paid inside linebackers in football, which does beg the question: Where does Bowman rank among the top players at his position?
In the following slides, we present the top five inside linebackers in the NFL today.
Brian Cushing, Houston Texans
Had Cushing not tore his ACL in an ugly incident in early October, he'd likely be somewhere on this list. He's young enough now (25) to think he'll make a run at the top five next season.
D'Qwell Jackson, Cleveland Browns
Miscast in the 3-4 for many years, Jackson now looks like a top 10 inside linebacker playing the middle of Cleveland's 4-3 the past two seasons.
Brandon Spikes, New England Patriots
Spikes is arguably the top run-stopping middle linebacker in football, which gives him a spot on the honorable mention list.
DeMeco Ryans, Philadelphia Eagles
For as bad as the Eagles defense has been in 2012, Ryans has been one of the lone bright spots.
5. Daryl Washington, Arizona Cardinals
Playing defense in the NFL in 2012 demands the ability to create pressure on quarterbacks, and no inside linebacker in football is better at doing so than the ultra-athletic Washington.
According to Pro Football Focus, Washington's nine sacks and 20 total quarterback disruptions lead the position this season.
One issue he needs to clean up is the missed tackle category, where Washington's 12 are the sixth-most among inside linebackers.
4. Sean Lee, Dallas Cowboys
Before suffering a severe turf toe injury that landed him on Injured Reserve, Lee was having an All-Pro season. In seven games, Lee tallied 58 tackles with a forced fumble, interception and three passes defensed.
PFF still has Lee as their fifth-best inside linebacker, which is amazing considering the games he's missed. Lee's speed and power in both the run game and coverage will eventually get him in the top three of these rankings, as soon as 2013.
3. NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco 49ers
Bowman does benefit from playing alongside Patrick Willis, but that shouldn't take away the individual monster he's become on his own.
An elite run defender, Bowman is also a capable blitzer and coverage man for the 49ers. In 11 games this season, Bowman has 100 total tackles, two sacks, one interception and five passes defensed.
He's almost assured his first Pro Bowl selection in 2012, and a second All-Pro pick wouldn't be shocking either.
2. Derrick Johnson, Kansas City Chiefs
Playing on some bad Chiefs teams and defenses, Johnson is overlooked among the NFL's best inside linebackers. But don't let that distract you from just how good he is at his job.
At 92 tackles, Johnson is well on his way to another 120-plus season in that category. He's also capable on the blitz (17 career sacks), a playmaker against the pass (nine career interceptions) and a ripper of the football (19 career forced fumbles).
And even at age 30, Johnson remains one of the athletic players at the position.
According to PFF, Johnson has been in the top five of inside linebackers in each of the last three seasons, including the third-best grade in 2012.
1. Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers
Could it really be anyone else? Willis is head-and-shoulders above any other player at the inside linebacker position, regardless of how good you think Bowman has become playing next to him.
He simply does it all.
In 87 career games, Willis has averaged almost nine tackles a contest. According to PFF, no one has graded out higher against the run since 2008. He also has 17.5 sacks, six interceptions, 48 passes defensed and 13 forced fumbles over six NFL seasons.
Willis is the new model for all inside linebackers, and he's set the bar high. In 2012, there's no one better.