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The San Francisco 49ers went from being Super Bowl competitors in the 2019 season to bottom of the NFC West the very next and with the draft only a few months away, the Niners will have to determine what problem they’re going to address first with the No. 12 overall pick.
Niners legendary linebacker Patrick Willis told Fox News in an interview this week that he believes San Francsico can return to its former glory by focusing on defense above all.
“One the defensive side, I feel like they need another edge rusher that can compliment Nick Bosa,” Willis said. “I know they have a young defensive line, I know they already need another edge presence outside. I’m not sure Dee Ford, if he’s going to be that guy because again, he missed a lot of games when you talk about health-wise. So I could see them going with an outside presence or a pass rusher someone to compliment Bosa.”
The 49ers were hampered by injuries this season including starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. While many think the team should move on from the former back up to Tom Brady, Willis thinks he can take them back to a Super Bowl with the right defense.
“I think they’ve seen him at his best,” the seven-time Pro Bowler said. “Now if they got get him that defense, that same type of defense they had when they went to the Super Bowl and he can stay somewhat healthy, then yes, obviously they can win with him.”
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo celebrates after their teams win against the Green Bay Packers in the NFL NFC Championship football game Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Willis said the 49ers could also go the cornerback route, especially as rumors of Richard Sherman’s departure heat up.
“I could possibly see him leaving and really saying at this point ‘where can I go to win me another championship and play.’”
For Willis, he sees two options. One that includes Garoppolo and one that doesn’t but both focus on defense.
“We need to win now and we need to win a lot in order for us to stay relevant,” he put it simply. “I could almost see them either button-up that defense and say [to Garoppolo] we’re going to give you another year to showcase what you can do or they just say you know what we’re gonna beef up the defense and maybe bring in a new quarterback and build around him.”
Either way, the answer is clear.
“If they get a defense, I think they can win their division.”
Willis doesn’t see the first pick going to the offense but if they do: “I would say offensive tackle.”
Veteran Trent Williams will be a free agent but could be a viable option at offensive tackle, especially if the 49ers bring in a young quarterback, Willis said.
“They keep that veteran in there if he’s not going to eat up too much cap space.”
Willis said as far as wide receivers go, the Niners safest bet would be to explore the free agency market, pointing to past-first round picks that flopped.
Willis was drafted by the 49ers with the No. 11 pick in 2007. In his first year, he led the league in tackles, received both first team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors and was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He would go on to have six seasons with 100 or more tackles and was named to six more Pro Bowls.
Patrick Willis #52 of the San Francisco 49ers fires the team up on the field prior to the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Levi Stadium on October 5, 2014 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Since retiring from the NFL, Willis has joined CoachTube.com, an online platform offering instructional courses in a wide range of sports.
He said became involved as a linebacker coach sometime around 2017 after feeling the need to share what he learned over his eight years in the NFL.
“I learned a lot of information from playing the game and I would love to share and give that back.”
Willis said he saw the platform, which predominately offers coach-to-coach training, really “take off” once the pandemic hit as all levels of sports, high school and college, were forced to go virtual.