Inside: Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Ken Norton Jr.
Outside: Dave Wilcox, Charles Haley, Keena Turner, Aldon Smith
Aside from quarterback, perhaps no other position on the 49ers is as defined as linebacker. A starting all-time tandem for the inside jobs are easily Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman — the crop that put San Francisco’s linebackers back on the list in the early 2010s. And with Willis’ 732 career tackles still a franchise high, what more would you want out of the eight year, five-time first-team All-Pro?
Willis’ early retirement in 2015 marked the end of that era. Yet just imagining how potent the Niners defense was during those heyday years can still captivate anyone’s imagination.
One could argue, though, neither Willis nor Bowman are the team’s best linebacker of all time.
That distinction goes to Dave Wilcox, who spent his entire 11-year career (1964 through 1974) in San Francisco and earned seven Pro Bowl nods and two first-team All-Pros to his name.
And right now, what separates Wilcox from Willis is the former’s Hall of Fame induction in 2000. Willis might get there soon, but Wilcox is there now.
So is Charles Haley, whose departure from the 49ers to the Dallas Cowboys hurt. But the Niners have long since welcomed back the now-Hall of Famer into their ranks again.
Meanwhile, Keena Turner was always a fan favorite. He had just one Pro Bowl nod to his name (1984). But personal sentiments carry some weight here.
Same goes with former 49ers pass-rusher Aldon Smith, whose career has long since been defined by alcoholism and off-field transgressions. All of which are sad and leave us asking “what could have been?”
Regardless, Smith was one of the most feared pass-rushers in the NFL during his brief prime. That earns him a spot on our 53.