Best 49er

Last year, kicker Joe Nedney took our Best Of award — which was as much an honor to him as a dishonor to a team with precious few standouts. But things are starting to look up in Niners land, and it's obvious now that the kicker isn't the team's best player. That honor belongs to third-year linebacker Patrick Willis, who earned Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and a Pro Bowl berth in 2007, and followed those with another monster season last year. He registered 141 tackles — 109 solo — and picked off a pass for a touchdown en route to being named a Pro Bowl starter. Apart from the stats, Willis has quickly put his signature on this squad — it's his team now — and if new coach Mike Singletary's no-nonsense defense returns the 49ers to their former place of glory, folks might find other reasons to mention Willis and Singletary, a Hall of Fame linebacker, in the same breath.

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