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Friday, February 7, 2014
MVP replacements: San Francisco 49ers

By Bill Williamson

Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Wondering how they might have to replace perhaps their best player is a literal exercise for the San Francisco 49ers.

In a crushing side story to a last-second loss against NFC West rival Seattle in the NFC Championship Game, San Francisco saw star inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman go down with a devastating knee injury in the fourth quarter.

Bowman suffered a major ACL and a MCL injury in his left knee. He is expected to have surgery in the coming weeks. Bowman and the 49ers are confident he will be able to play next season. However, San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh said, at this point, there is no way to be sure he will be ready for Week 1.

In the worst-case scenario, Bowman -- a dominant playmaker who is an NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate -- will miss a few games. Also, it is fair to wonder how long it will take him to get back into form.

There is little doubt Bowman will become a dominant player again, but the 49ers might have to live without him for a while. He is such a special player and such a great fit for this stout, aggressive defense, the 49ers would have a hole without Bowman in the lineup.

If the 49ers would have beaten Seattle, Michael Wilhoite would have taken Bowman’s spot. Wilhoite, a special teams ace, spelled fellow inside linebacker Patrick Willis in the 49ers’ 3-4 defense for a short time this season when Willis was dealing with a hamstring injury. Wilhoite did well, and many scouts think he can be a starter.

But he’s not at Bowman’s level. Few players are.

Potential pick: Chris Kirksey, ILB, Iowa
Kirksey is an instinctive defender who shows quick recognition skills as a run defender. He also possesses above-average range and awareness in coverage. He can continue to add bulk to his frame and get stronger at the point of attack, but his ability to hold up in space and contribute on special teams should allow him to make an immediate impact early on in his career while he develops.

-- Kevin Weidl