During the fourth quarter of the San Francicsco 49ers eventual 23-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game linebacker Navorro Bowman suffered a torn ACL while making an incredible play on wide receiver Jermaine Kearse that he will never get credit for.
With recovery taking anywhere from 6-9 will the injury change the 2014 draft strategy for the 49ers? Bowman is one of the best defensive players in the NFL and arguably the Defensive Player of the Year after a season in which he recorded 145 tackles including 120 that were solo, recorded five sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions with one returned for a touchdown. In the postseason he stepped his game up registering 35 tackles including 21 solo, recorded two sacks and forced two fumbles and nearly came away with a third.
The selection will likely come in the second round for a middle linebacker and possible choices are Christian Jones, Shayne Skov and Yawin Smallwood.
Jones part of the Florida State Seminoles championship team got the opportunity to play defensive end after several defensive starters left for the NFL resulting in a drop in tackles. In 2013 recorded 56 tackles, eight tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception. In 2012 had his best season with 95 tackles, seven tackles for loss, three passes defended and two fumble recoveries with one returned for a touchdown.
Skov suffered a serious knee injury as a junior in 2011 and got a medical redshirt allowing him a fifth year of eligibility for the Stanford Cardinal. He ended the 2013 season recording 109 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, four passes defended and three forced fumbles.
Smallwood who played for the University of Connecticut recorded 118 tackles to go along with 9.5 tackles for loss, nine passes defended, four sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception returned for a touchdown. His best season did come in 2012 when he registered 120 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, four passes defended and two forced fumbles.
Another route that San Francisco might take is free agency or can settle on a player already on the roster such as linebacker Michael Wilhoite who made two starts in place of the injured Patrick Willis. Played well as the starter with 20 tackles and a pass defended. All three options make sense for the 49ers and the only thing that cannot happen is rushing Bowman back.