No. 2: Linebacker Chris Borland
2014 NFL Draft: Round 3, No. 77 Overall
The 49ers had plenty of linebacker questions in 2014, starting off with perennial Pro Bowler NaVorro Bowman‘s gruesome knee injury in the NFC Championship game against the Seattle Seahawks earlier that year.
Similarly, fellow linebacker Patrick Willis‘ own injuries, which eventually forced him to retire the following season, were beginning to pile up.
What seemed like a blessing at the time was watching third-round linebacker Chris Borland ascend on the scene as a dynamic tackling force, regularly around the ball and looking to be a cornerstone piece to the Niners defense. While many saw the 6-foot-0, 248-pound Wisconsin product as too small for regular defensive work at the pro level, all Borland did that year was register a whopping 84 solo tackles, which was tied for 11th most among all players in 2014.
Borland’s efforts were infectious. He looked like he would be another third-round gem, much like Bowman was.
But all that was put to an abrupt halt when Borland announced his retirement the following season, citing concerns about head injuries and his long-term health.
Nothing wrong with choosing that route, yet it still left fans wondering what could have been.