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Potential draft replacements for Chris Borland, Patrick Willis

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The retirements of Patrick Willis and Chris Borland likely have the San Francisco 49ers adding inside linebacker to their list of draft needs.

The only inside linebackers currently on the roster who have started an NFL game are NaVorro Bowman, Michael Wilhoite and Nick Moody. Bowman missed the 2014 season because of an ACL tear. Wilhoite, signed as an undrafted free agent from Division II Washburn (Kan.) in 2011, made 87 tackles last season; he started all 16 games because of injuries to Bowman and Willis. Moody has two starts and 25 total tackles in two NFL seasons.


» Draft Winds: Linking prospects to NFL teams


Do the 49ers feel comfortable with Wilhoite as a starter moving forward? Even if they do, given Bowman's injury situation, selecting a linebacker in the draft would seem to make sense.

Here are four prospects who could appeal to the 49ers in the early rounds. Picking any of them with the 49ers' No. 15 overall pick would be a reach; San Francisco picks 14th (46th overall) in the second round, but there would be a danger that none of the quartet could be there. The players are listed alphabetically.

Stephone Anthony, Clemson

Anthony (6-foot-2 5/8, 243 pounds) seemingly has rocketed up draft boards since the end of the season, to the point where he could be the first true inside linebacker selected. Anthony, who had a strong combine, was a two-year starter (2013-14) at Clemson; actually, he also began his sophomore season in 2012 as the starter but was benched. "He got refocused," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told the Anderson (S.C.) Independent Mail. "He's as good a person, player, committed guy as I've been around." Anthony had a combined 206 tackles, 6.5 sacks and 24 tackles for loss in his final two seasons at Clemson, and the Sacramento (Calif.) Bee reported that the 49ers have "taken a close look" at him.


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Eric Kendricks, UCLA

Kendricks (6-0 1/4, 232) is UCLA's leading career tackler and won the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker in 2014. He has said he models his game after Willis'. Kendricks' best fit might be as a WILL linebacker in a 4-3, but he could be an ILB in a 3-4, though he likely would need to add weight. He has good football instincts, and runs well sideline to sideline.

Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State

McKinney, who left Mississippi State after his junior season, has intriguing size (6-4 1/8, 246) and had a 40.5-inch vertical jump at the combine. While his size, strength and physicality are pluses, his agility is questionable and he could struggle playing in space in the NFL. Still, there's no doubt he has an upside as an inside linebacker in a 3-4. McKinney -- who was a high school quarterback -- was a three-year starter for the Bulldogs; his most productive season was as a redshirt freshman (102 tackles) in 2012.

Denzel Perryman, Miami

Like Borland, Perryman (5-10 3/4, 236) is a sub-6-foot linebacker. But as with Borland, Perryman is an old-school inside 'backer who delivers a blow -- Perryman is one of the biggest hitters in this draft -- and always seems to be around the ball. He is a hard worker with a good football IQ, but his ability in pass coverage is a concern; he might only be a two-down linebacker at the next level. But he is a thumper against the run and understands leverage. Perryman was a part-time starter as a true freshman in 2011, then was a fulltime starter in his final three seasons at UM; he had 228 total tackles in his final two seasons and forced seven fumbles in his career. Former NFL running back Clinton Portis has said Perryman is a good fit for San Francisco.


» Mike Mayock's top five 2015 NFL Draft prospects by position


In mock drafts done by six NFL Media analysts, McKinney is seen as a first-rounder by four analysts, Perryman by two and Anthony by one.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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