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Serious Competitors: Michael Wilhoite, Chris Borland, Nick Moody
For my No. 1-ranked positional battle, it has to be at inside linebacker. The key question is can anyone replace the production of All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman?
The short answer is no.
However, the three players mentioned above can at least hold the fort down until Bowman returns sometime midseason. Yes, you read that right. All three of the players mentioned above can play at a high enough level to get the job done.
Unfortunately, only one can be chosen. Since hearing the news of Bowman's injury, my immediate answer was Michael Wilhoite. After the draft and free agency, my answer still hasn't changed.
Wilhoite did a fantastic job in filling in for the injured Patrick Willis last season and should have similar performances now playing alongside No. 52. Let's be honest, anyone playing alongside an All-Pro linebacker in Willis is going to benefit.
Bar none, Willis is the best linebacker in the league. Of course, this is a separate discussion for another day.
Regardless, the drop-off shouldn't be dramatic with Wilhoite in the lineup. Now, can the same be said for Chris Borland and Nick Moody?
Well, I already boasted that all three players could play at a high enough level. I stand by the comment. You insert Moody or Borland, and again, the drop-off shouldn't be that dramatic.
The problem with linebackers, and about every position in the NFL, is you need playing time to get better. Linebackers are instinctual players who need live snaps for constant development. I just can't envision the less experienced Borland or Moody getting the nod over a veteran lie Wilhoite.
My pick is Wilhoite, but if the 49ers decide to start either Borland or Moody instead, you should still expect high-level play from the inside linebacker position.