Today is a sad day in 49er nation as inside linebacker, stud Patrick Willis has decided to walk away from the game at only 30-years-old. Willis who battled a toe injury last season will walk away from the game on top as he is still arguably the best inside linebacker in the NFL and has made the NFL All-Pro team in 5 of his 8 seasons. The 49ers seem to be in the midst of a rebuilding process as former head coach Jim Harbaugh, Patrick Willis, Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree, and Justin Smith will not be suiting up for the team next season.
Willis was drafted out of Mississippi in the first round with the 11th overall pick by the Niners in the 2007 draft. He wasted no time making an impact on the Niners’ defense where he led the NFL in tackles in his first year, earned first team All-Pro honors and was named to the NFC Pro Bowl team while being voted the defensive rookie of the year.
Willis hasn’t missed a beat in his 8-year-career playing in 112 career games with 950 tackles, 20.5 sacks, eight interceptions and 16 forced fumbles. What separated Willis from his contemporaries was his ability to play both the run and the pass at an elite level which allowed him to stay on the field for all three downs. He was pivotal in turning the 49ers’ franchise around from futility and spearheaded them to three straight NFC Championship games including a Super Bowl appearance.
With his retirement coming six weeks after his 30th birthday, now the question that will loom large is if he deserves a Hall of Fame induction? Willis has been the best and most dominant Mike linebacker over the last eight seasons but a nagging toe injury and other priorities in his life cut his career short. If he played a few more seasons he almost assuredly would get a Hall of Fame nod. Even with how great Willis has been over his career he has been one of the most overlooked and underrated players. He does everything on the field exceptionally well but does it quietly under the radar. Real football heads knows how great his career was and hopefully he will get the call to the Hall.
Side Note – He might not be the great Dick Butkus but look at the similarities in their careers.
Dick Butkus – Nine seasons, eight Pro Bowls, five first-team AP All-Pro selections.
Patrick Willis – Eight seasons, seven Pro Bowls, five first-team AP All-Pro selections.