NFL Nation: Patrick Willis


SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The pick: Chris Borland, inside linebacker, Wisconsin.

My take: The San Francisco 49ers are having quite the day. Borland, like Carlos Hyde and Marcus Martin, can help right away. He was a star at Wisconsin. He is a durable tackle machine and was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. He may be able to help with star NaVorro Bowman out for the first half of the season with a torn ACL. Borland should be a fine backup to Bowman and Patrick Willis in the next few seasons and then perhaps play more. Willis turns 30 next year.

Not a typical Baalke pick: 49ers general manager Trent Baalke is famous for gravitating to players with long arms. The knock on Borland is his short arms.

What's next: Two more picks tonight -- No. 94 and No. 100. Cornerbacks and receivers anyone? Hello?
PITTSBURGH -- Mock drafts have, predictably, been all over the place as far as the Pittsburgh Steelers' first-round pick. Most, however, have them taking a wide receiver or a cornerback No. 15 overall, assuming they don’t try to trade down.

I think those two positions are most likely the ones the Steelers will target with their first pick, though North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron could also be in play if he slides a little in the draft.

Ebron
Ebron is the No. 1 player at one of the few positions that is not particularly deep, and he would give the Steelers a tall receiver while also filling a long-term need. I think Heath Miller has at least three good seasons left in him, but the Steelers have to plan for the post-Miller years at some point.

If Ebron is still available when they make the first pick, I think they give him serious consideration, especially if a couple of cornerbacks are already off the board, as well as Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans.

The Steelers have eight other picks in the draft, three of which are compensatory selections, including one at the end of the third round. They have a lot of needs -- or as general manager Kevin Colbert would frame it "wants" -- particularly on defense.

Here is my projection of the positions they will address with their nine picks, which is contingent on the Steelers not adding extra ones through a trade.

Cornerback (2): The Steelers could use immediate help here, and they don't have a long-term starter at cornerback after third-year man Cortez Allen. I would be surprised if they don't draft two cornerbacks, with one of them coming in the first three rounds. They drafted two cornerbacks in 2011, including Allen in the fourth round.

Defensive line (2): The Steelers will draft a defensive lineman as early as the second round -- ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has them taking Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III with their second pick in his latest mock draft -- and they need to take at least one end. The signing of Cam Thomas gives them a player with position flexibility, but the Steelers' need at defensive end is every bit as glaring as it is at cornerback.

Wide receiver (1): No position is deeper in the draft, and even if the Steelers don't address it in the first round, they can still get a good prospect later. The Steelers probably won't get a chance to draft Evans unless they trade up in the first round and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin may be too much of a risk to take at No. 15. LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. has been linked to the Steelers in various mock drafts, and they could pull the trigger on him if they have him high on their board.

Linebacker (1): The Steelers have to take a player who projects as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme given how thin they are at the position. It will be interesting to see what they will do if Alabama’s C.J. Mosley is still on the board at No. 15. Mosley, who projects as an inside linebacker, may be one of the most NFL-ready players in the draft. “He and (Lawrence) Timmons could be your (NaVorro) Bowman and (Patrick) Willis,” ESPN analyst and former NFL scout Matt Williamson said. If the Steelers take Mosley, they will also draft an outside linebacker later in the draft.

Safety (1): The Steelers have hosted at least three safeties for pre-draft visits, including Louisville’s Calvin Pryor, a projected first-round pick. The signing of Mike Mitchell makes it unlikely the Steelers take a safety in the first round but it wouldn't hurt to add another younger player here. The question is whether it makes sense for them to draft a safety -- or instead sign a couple of undrafted free agents -- if they don’t take one in the second or third round.

Offensive line (1): I don't see this as the need that others do. The Steelers got their upgrade up front when they hired Mike Munchak to coach the offensive line and he has plenty of material with which to work. All five starters return, including Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, who tore his ACL eight snaps into last season. And the Steelers have depth up front after re-signing Cody Wallace and Guy Whimper. The Steelers will probably take a lineman they can develop later in the draft, but I could also see them not drafting one for the second year in a row if they take two linebackers or a tight end.

Running back (1): The Steelers need depth and they could use a speedster to complement Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount. The de-valuing of running backs allows the Steelers to wait until later in the draft to address the position and still get a good prospect. I don't see them taking a running back before the fifth round.
Last month, San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said the team could look at some veteran inside linebackers as star NaVorro Bowman recovers from a torn ACL in his knee. Bowman could be out for half the season.

Connor
The 49ers have yet to add any veteran help, but they have been looking. The team showed interest in free agent Brandon Spikes before he signed with Buffalo. Spikes’ price tag was too big for the 49ers, who are simply looking for some depth and a veteran option in case they must turn to one. The 49ers like Michael Wilhoite, who spelled inside linebacker Patrick Willis successfully for a short period last season, and second-year player Nick Moody. CSN Bay Area reported this week that the 49ers are still exploring the veteran market.

Perhaps one reason why the 49ers haven’t signed anyone is that there are not a lot of great options.

Here are some names that could potentially interest the 49ers: Desmond Bishop, Dan Connor, Jonathan Vilma, Paris Lenon, Larry Grant, Nick Barnett, Bryan Kehl and Larry Foote. Bishop and Kehl are coming off torn ACLs themselves, and players like Vilma, Barnett and Foote are at the end of their careers.

The bright side for the 49ers is they don’t need much from any addition. They are just looking for depth options.

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 4
Preseason Power Ranking: 2

Biggest surprise: The impact that Michael Crabtree's injury and then his return had on the team. When Crabtree suffered a torn Achilles in May, the 49ers knew it would affect their offense. But his absence was felt dramatically during the 11 games he was out. The 49ers had essentially nothing behind receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis in the passing game. However, when he returned Dec. 1, the 49ers were instantly a better, more varied, dangerous offense. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was more confident. The difference was stark.

Biggest disappointment: The loss at New Orleans on Nov. 17. The 49ers appeared to have sealed the game when linebacker Ahmad Brooks sacked and forced New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees to fumble late. But Brooks was called for a questionable personal foul. The Saints rallied to win. It was a major storyline in the NFL that week. Had the 49ers won, they would have finished 13-3, won a tiebreaker over Seattle in the NFC West and would not have had to play at Seattle in the playoffs.

Biggest need: The 49ers are deep. They don't have many holes. But they can use another young receiver. Boldin is 33 and a free agent. Fourth-round pick Quinton Patton looks promising, but San Francisco will likely take a speed receiver early in the draft. Expect the team to take a cornerback fairly early as well. The 49ers need to develop a young player there.

Team MVP: Inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman. The 25-year-old had an amazing season. He is an NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He was dominant in virtually every game. He is a special playmaker. It was a sad sight seeing him being carted off in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss at Seattle with a major knee injury. Bowman is expected back next season. The 49ers need him.

In our NFL confidential survey, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson received the most votes when players were asked which player do they most want to see play in a Super Bowl.

Peterson was a popular choice among the 10 49ers players polled. So it's not surprising he was the leading vote getter. Most of the 49ers’ roster was not eligible because they qualified for the Super Bowl last season.

If not, I’m sure players like running back Frank Gore, defensive tackle Justin Smith and linebacker Patrick Willis would have received votes because they are so well respected around the league.

Small 49ers' Pro Bowl group

January, 21, 2014
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There will not be a big San Francisco 49ers' contingent at this weekend's Pro Bowl.

Linebacker Ahmad Brooks told the San Jose Mercury News he expects to be the only 49er there. Eight 49ers made the team, which was announced in December. It was tied for the most with Kansas City.

Linebacker NaVorro Bowman (knee) and guard Mike Iupati (leg) were seriously injured in the 49ers' loss at Seattle in the NFC title game Sunday. Left tackle Joe Staley suffered a minor thumb injury.

Brooks told the paper running back Frank Gore, defensive tackle Justin Smith and linebacker Patrick Willis aren't planning on playing and tight end Vernon Davis told reporters nagging injuries will keep him out.

All the bail outs are not surprising. Often players, especially players who have been to the Pro Bowl in the past, choose to rest rather to go to the Pro Bowl. It is especially not surprising in the 49ers' case. They just ended a three-week window in which they played three road playoff games.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- As he dressed alongside NaVorro Bowman, after another dominant San Francisco 49ers defensive performance that propelled the team to its third straight NFC Championship Game, Patrick Willis looked up.

“This is the greatest sport there is,” the perennial Pro Bowl linebacker said. Bowman smiled and nodded.

[+] EnlargeNaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezLinebackers NaVorro Bowman (53) and Patrick Willis anchor a 49ers defense that has the team competing for the NFC championship on Sunday.
They are arguably the greatest pair of position players in the NFL.

As the 49ers have revisited their glorified past this season under coach Jim Harbaugh, it has been cemented by fierce, take-over defensive play. The team's five Super Bowl trophies may have been won by players like Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Steve Young, yet their latest run at a dynasty is being paved on the other side of the ball.

It starts with Willis and Bowman.

“They are like two machines in the middle of our defense,” San Francisco rookie safety Eric Reid said.

The two inside linebackers are the heartbeat of the 49ers’ defense, which has shut out opponents in an NFL-high 35 of 78 quarters this season.

The defense is loaded with stalwarts such as outside linebackers Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks, defensive tackle Justin Smith, and safety Donte Whitner, but the personality of this unit starts with Willis and Bowman.

In fact, some believe the duo might be among the best linebacker tandems ever to play.

“They are historically good,” ESPN analyst Matt Williamson said. “They are there with [Jack] Ham/[Jack] Lambert, [Brian] Urlacher/[Lance] Briggs, [Willie] Lanier/[Bobby] Bell. [Willis and Bowman] are a truly rare and elite pairing.”

The 49ers came across this historic pairing unexpectedly. They drafted Willis, who will turn 29 later this month, with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2007 draft. He was considered a can’t-miss prospect out of Mississippi and has been first- or second-team All-Pro in his first six NFL seasons.

When the 49ers drafted Bowman three years later, they were just hoping to get a capable potential starter. He was taken in the third round out of Penn State in 2010. Running back Frank Gore recalls seeing Bowman as a rookie in camp and knowing the 49ers might have found the perfect complement to Willis.

“Even in training camp, OTAs, I just saw how fast he was,” Gore said. “How he could read and get to the ball. We have the same agent (Drew Rosenhaus) and I called my agent and I said, 'Man, you've got somebody right here, man. That’s a good pickup for you to represent.' "

Still, Bowman’s success was not instant. Harbaugh's staff came in 2011. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio told his new defense that only Willis and Justin Smith were guaranteed a spot. Everyone else had to go earn it. Bowman listened.

“No, because he really didn’t play much the year before,” Fangio said, when asked if he had big expectations for Bowman in 2011. "And all through that offseason, that was the lockout year, there was kind of an assumption that Takeo Spikes was going to come back here. And NaVorro probably would have been in the same role. In retrospect, it’s a good thing that Takeo didn't come back here because he would have been beaten out by NaVorro.”

Once Bowman, 25, got on the field, he and Willis instantly clicked. Both have been among the league leaders in tackles, and they have a unique chemistry. While Bowman was an All-Pro last season, he has taken his game to the next level as Willis dealt with hand and hamstring injuries early in the season.

Bowman, who came up with the 49ers' play of the year when he saved the final game at Candlestick Park in Week 16 by returning an interception 89 yards for a touchdown against Atlanta, is a candidate for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. Willis fully supports his younger teammate. Asked about Bowman's candidacy, Willis said “he has my vote.”

Perhaps what makes this combination so strong is that they are as in sync off the field as they are on it. They each had 11 tackles, tying for a team-high (Willis also had an interception), in the 23-10 win Sunday against Carolina that sent the 49ers to the NFC title game against Seattle. They conducted their postgame news conference together. Willis, a country kid from Tennessee, and Bowman, who hails from a high-crime area in Maryland just outside Washington, D.C., both are quiet by nature, and neither is overly flashy off the field. Bowman said the key to their success is discipline in the study room.

“We are students, we are in school,” Bowman said. “We learn every day.”

The 49ers will be counting on them for the long haul. Willis is signed through 2016 and Bowman through 2018, and Harbaugh knows these two are a key to the team’s success.

“The teamwork, the respect that they have for each other, the love, is shared by many people on the team,” Harbaugh said. "And that, as a coach, there’s nothing that makes you feel as good as to hear that. That’s the team, the team, the team. And it’s genuine. It’s not talk."

Neither is the impact of Willis and Bowman on the 49ers' success.
When ESPN's NFL Nation reporters surveyed more than 320 players for our NFL Nation Confidential survey during the 2013 season, the question of which player is the NFL's most feared elicited a variety of responses. There were two ways to take the question -- which player am I most worried about having to stop, and which player am I most worried about ending my career? -- and the answers we got reflected both trains of thought.

J.J. Watt, Patrick Willis and James Harrison were among the top seven vote-getters. So were Peyton Manning and the Vikings' own Adrian Peterson, who finished seventh with 16 votes. But the two teammates at the top of the list -- Detroit's Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh -- best embodied the two sides of the question.

Johnson
Suh
Suh won the title with 61 votes, beating Johnson by three after gaining a reputation as one of the most aggressive players in the league. Of the 10 Vikings I surveyed, three voted for Johnson and two voted for Suh. Depending on which side of the ball you play on, there's an argument to be made for both.

The Vikings certainly have had plenty of experience with both Johnson and Suh. They've faced Johnson 12 times, allowing 62 catches for 873 yards and seven touchdowns. And actually, when you consider what he's done to the other two teams in the division (gaining 1,163 yards in 12 games against the Packers and 928 in 13 games against the Bears), along with Johnson's career average of 88 yards a game, the Vikings haven't done a bad job against him. In fact, Johnson's 72.8 yards-per-game average against them is his fourth-lowest against a NFC opponent, behind only Seattle, Washington and Chicago.

Suh has 3.5 sacks in seven career games against the Vikings and chased Christian Ponder out of the pocket in the Vikings' season-opening loss to the Lions, hitting Ponder's arm and forcing an interception. He also threw a low block at Vikings center John Sullivan in that game, nullifying a touchdown on a return of Ponder's first interception. Suh plays on the precipice of recklessness at times, and though the Vikings are far from the only team that's had run-ins with him, they get as much of a taste of the defensive lineman's fierceness as anyone.

With both players, as with Peterson, shutting them down once isn't enough to eradicate fear. It's always present in the worry of what they can do the next time, in one particular game or moment, if you're not being careful. Playing in the same division as the Lions, the Vikings have to deal with both of them twice a year, and that challenge is easily one of the most formidable in the NFL.
There are two words that most NFL people are usually highly averse to during a football conversation.

Folks don’t often like the word "surprised," as in, "Were you surprised by [insert whatever was an issue in the previous game here]?"

And folks don’t like the word "feared." So when a selection of the Broncos were asked about the league’s most feared player, virtually all of them -- nine of 10 to be exact -- took it to mean a playmaker who was difficult to deal with down to down, not somebody who intimidated them.

So while Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh got the nod as the league’s most feared player in the NFL Nation Confidential, Suh got just one of the votes from 10 Broncos who responded to the question.

The winners among the Broncos were 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, with an emphasis on his playmaking and the ability to affect games, and Suh’s teammate in Detroit, wide receiver Calvin Johnson. A lot of people agreed with the Broncos leaguewide, given Johnson finished just behind Suh in the survey and Willis was fourth.

Two of the Broncos went with quarterbacks as their most feared players because, as one of the players put it, "They take everything from you," with Peyton Manning getting one vote and Tom Brady getting one vote.
This makes sense.

Patrick Willis is one of the most feared players in the NFL.

Even a casual NFL observer can tell you the San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker is a vicious playmaker on the field. His peers feel the same way. Willis finished fourth in the survey of 320 players who were asked about the most feared player in the NFL.

He received 23 votes. Detroit defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh received the most votes (61). Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson was second, Houston’s defensive end J.J. Watt was third. Forty-eight players in total received votes.

What are your thoughts? Should Willis be ranked higher? Lower? Fill up the comments section below.

Quick Take: 49ers at Panthers

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Three things to know about the San Francisco 49ers' matchup at the Carolina Panthers in the NFC divisional round at 1:05 p.m. ET Sunday:

1. Rematch: All Colin Kaepernick said about the Carolina Panthers on Sunday night, after the 49ers secured their trip there with a 23-20 win at Green Bay was “we owe them.” The Panthers beat the 49ers in San Francisco, 10-9, on Nov. 10. It was one of the NFL’s most physical games of the season. Both offenses struggled as both teams played brilliant defense. Expect another low-scoring game, although the point total likely will exceed 19 this time around.

2. Young quarterback battle: This will be a terrific national spotlight game for two of the better young quarterbacks in the league, Kaepernick and Carolina's Cam Newton. One of these two quarterbacks is heading to the NFC Championship Game. Newton was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft. Kaepernick, who already has been to one Super Bowl, was taken in the second round.

3. Great linebacking play: The first meeting was highlighted by stellar defensive play, particularly by the inside linebackers. San Francisco’s NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis and Carolina’s Luke Kuechly are among the game’s best middle linebackers. Bowman and Kuechly are legitimate NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidates. Expect this matchup to be run through these guys once again.


The Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers have met so often of late that they’re becoming like division rivals.

Sunday’s NFC wild-card playoff game at Lambeau Field will be the fourth meeting between the two teams in the past 17 months. They played in Week 1 of the 2012 season and again in the divisional round of the playoffs that season. They opened the 2013 season against each other again.

The 49ers won all three games.

ESPN.com 49ers reporter Bill Williamson and Packers reporter Rob Demovsky discuss what, if anything, might be different this time around.

Demovsky: Bill, the Packers have seen quarterback Colin Kaepernick beat them with his feet like he did in last year’s playoff game, when he rushed for 181 yards, and also beat them with his arm, like he did in the season opener this year when he threw for 412 yards. What has he been doing better lately, running or throwing, and how do you think coach Jim Harbaugh will try to attack the Packers’ defense this time around?

Williamson: Rob, he’s been a pass-first quarterback all season as he showed in Week 1. That was his best game of the season. But Kaepernick has been playing at a high level in the past five games with Michael Crabtree back on the field. Kaepernick’s Total QBR during the past three weeks is the highest in the NFL. Rob, I’m intrigued to see what the offensive attack is going to be. We all remember the cat-and-mouse game in Week 1 about the read-option attack that never materialized. I could see the 49ers hitting the Packers with it early to get them off-balance and try to go back and forth throughout the game.

Rob, what do you think the Packers are expecting from Kaepernick this week?

Demovsky: I’m not sure they know what to expect. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers pointed out that last year, the 49ers had the bye week in the first round of the playoffs and therefore had plenty of time to tinker with their game plan and install new looks like the read-option. They don’t have that luxury this time around. That said, maybe Harbaugh didn't use much read-option during the season because he wanted to keep his quarterback from getting hit. Now that it’s win-or-go-home time, maybe he’d be more willing to risk it. Either way, the Packers know they have to limit the big plays -- whether on the ground or through the air -- that have killed them in the previous meetings.

In the opener this year, receiver Anquan Boldin dominated the Packers. Now that Crabtree has returned, what dimension has he added to the offense?

Williamson: It’s changed everything. This is a much better, varied, dangerous offense. Crabtree is not 100 percent, but he is still able to help. It makes Boldin even more dangerous. He was double- and triple-teamed because the 49ers didn't have many weapons. With a trio of Crabtree, Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis, Kaepernick has some firepower.

Rob, do you think the Packers are giving Boldin extra thought this week because of the damage he caused in Week 1?

Demovsky: I’m sure they are, but they've changed the way they cover since that game. They’re more willing to match up Sam Shields on the opponent’s best receiver now, whereas early in the year they simply played Shields on one side of the field and Tramon Williams on the other. They’re also cognizant of what the return of Crabtree means for the passing game. Also, the Packers didn't have safety Morgan Burnett in the Week 1 game and although Burnett has had an inconsistent year, they’re hoping his presence on the back end helps slow down the 49ers' passing game.

From here, the 49ers look as though they have one of the NFL’s best group of linebackers with Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks. What makes those guys so effective and how can the Packers attack the heart of the 49ers' defense?

Williamson: And don’t forget Aldon Smith. The young star has been playing at a high level for the past month-plus. He came back in November after missing five games while receiving treatment for substance abuse. But you are right; Bowman, Willis and Brooks all made the Pro Bowl. They are dominant. Bowman has been playing out of his mind and he is a legitimate NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

Rob, do you think containing the linebackers is the key for offensive success from Aaron Rodgers’ unit?

Demovsky: That’s certainly going to be one of the keys, because they could impact both the passing game when their ability to pass rush and the running game because of how they can clog up the middle, where Eddie Lacy likes to churn out yards. The Packers’ second-level blocking is going to be more critical in this game than perhaps at any time all season. If they let those linebackers get loose, it could spell trouble.

NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

At first glance, it looks as though the 49ers got shortchanged on the All-NFC West list, especially on defense. After all, the San Francisco defense is clearly one of the NFL's best.

So, to see only defensive tackle Justin Smith and inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman represented could raise eyebrows. However, one must consider that the NFC West is a fantastic division for defensive play. Try to find a more talented group; it'd be difficult.

The 49ers did well in total. They placed eight players on the 26-man All-NFC West first-team (as voted on by the four writers who cover the teams in the division). Seattle had eight on the first team, Arizona seven and St. Louis three.

So the 49ers were represented. Arguments certainly could have been made for linebackers Patrick Willis and Ahmad Brooks, as well as safeties Donte Whitner and rookie Eric Reid. But again, the players on this team are solid.

The 49ers were recognized for their strong offensive line -- the list includes three-fifths of the group with tackles Joe Staley and Anthony Davis and guard Alex Boone. No argument there. This is a physical group that sets the tone.

Tight end Vernon Davis, receiver Anquan Boldin and punter Andy Lee were all worthy picks.

It was a tough call between Marshawn Lynch and Frank Gore at running back. We went with just one. Lynch has 1,160 rushing yards and Gore has 1,114. Gore is a big part of what the 49ers do, but Lynch is vital to the Seahawks' offense.

A major argument could be made for San Francisco kicker Phil Dawson to be on the first team. He has been a major cog this season. But again, in total, the 49ers fared pretty well on this list.

The San Francisco 49ers had eight players named to the Pro Bowl on Friday night.

Who made it: LB Ahmad Brooks, LB NaVorro Bowman, tight end Vernon Davis, RB Frank Gore, G Mike Iupati, DL Justin Smith, LT Joe Staley, LB Patrick Willis.

My thoughts: The 49ers’ eight Pro Bowl selections is tied for the league high. The name that stands out is Brooks, who is having a great year. But he may be overshadowed by Bowman and Willis. It was good to see Brooks get the recognition he deserves. Iupati’s selection is a bit surprising considering he missed four games with a knee sprain, but he has played well when on the field.

Snubbed: Receiver Anquan Boldin, guard Alex Boone, punter Andy Lee, safeties Donte Whitner and Eric Reid and special teamer CJ Spillman were selected as alternates. They all easily could have made it. I think the biggest snubs are Boone, Dawson and Whitner. All three had huge seasons.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.

NaVorro Bowman adds to DPOY cause

December, 26, 2013
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Earlier this month, San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh stumped for inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman to be a candidate for the NFL's defensive player of the year award.

Now, Bowman has a signature moment to help his candidacy.

Bowman
Bowman, a tackling machine who has been one of the most consistent defensive players in the league, made one of the most memorable plays of the season to seal the 49ers’ playoff berth in a 34-24 win over Atlanta.

He caught a tipped ball by San Francisco cornerback Tramaine Brock and took it 89 yards for a touchdown to seal the game with 1:10 to go. Bowman started the play as a pass-rusher and then shot back to the ball to try to make a tackle.

What does Harbaugh think of Bowman’s chances for the award now?

“It’s sure not going to hurt him,” Harbaugh said.

I think Bowman will have difficulty getting interest, in part because he is not a high-profile name (even though he was an All-Pro last year). There are better-known players on the 49ers’ defense, such as Aldon Smith, Justin Smith and fellow inside linebacker Patrick Willis.

Still, there is no doubt Bowman deserves consideration.

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