NFC Champ & Ex-Pro Bowler ‘Could Follow’ New 49ers DC: Analyst

Steve Wilks

Getty Steve Wilks reacts to a formation on November 20, 2022 in Baltimore.

Now that the San Francisco 49ers have Steve Wilks in place to handle the defensive reins, now comes this next thought: Who could follow him and gravitate over to the Bay Area?

This is especially considering that whenever there’s a new hire, a player familiar with his scheme and ways could end up following that person. Dean Jones of FanSided on Thursday, February 9 placed this name at No. 1 on who “could follow” Wilks — who happens to be a player familiar with the NFC West and owns both a Pro Bowl appearance and NFC Championship ring: Cory Littleton.

Why the Ex-Rams Defender & Panthers Free Agent Could Fit

Here’s Jones’ explanation of the 2018 NFC champion with the Los Angeles Rams Littleton as a possibility for a Wilks-led 49ers defense:

“Steve Wilks is inheriting one of the league’s premier defenses, so it’s just a case of adopting his methods and letting the established playmakers do their thing. However, if the San Francisco 49ers seek his counsel for additional depth, a situation could emerge where some former Carolina Panthers players join the ranks.

In this scenario, Cory Littleton could be a chance worth taking. The ex-Pro Bowler is solid in coverage that flashed on occasions with the Panthers, and he’d likely jump at the chance to link up with Wilks in pursuit of a Super Bowl ring.”

Littleton, 29, will be entering his eighth season in the NFL in 2023. With Wilks, he started in seven games and tallied 47 tackles, 28 solo stops and two pass deflections. The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder will have his one-year, $2.6 million with the Panthers expiring, making him an unrestricted free agent free to sign anywhere.

With his size, speed and range, Littleton could additionally become a suitable replacement for Azeez Al-Shaair at outside linebacker. Al-Shaair is heading toward free agency and gave the notion to reporters on February 1 that he’s on his way out. His own teammate Fred Warner was one who sounded off on Al-Shaair likely heading out, with the All-Pro inside linebacker saying via KNBR “I want him to go be somewhere where he can be the guy,” while adding “He deserves it. He’s capable of it.”

If Al-Shaair walks and Littleton becomes available, a re-linking between Wilks and Littleton could appeal to the 49ers — plus bring Littleton back to the division.

One More Free Agent From Carolina Who Could Also Move

Littleton is considered the top defensive free agent name for the Panthers’ 2023 free agent class.

There is one other, though, who bears watching and could be a depth move for Wilks’ defense. Here is one more unrestricted free agent who played for Wilks in Charlotte who may end up being a depth option for S.F. if needed:

Matthew Ioannidis: The defensive end was lost in the quartet of Brian Burns, Yetur Gross-Matos, Marquis Hayes and Amare Barno in the pass rush. But he did deliver nine quarterback hits while sliding inside.

Ioannidis, 29, will likely have to accept lesser money than his $9.5 million deal he signed with Carolina. But with Maurice Hurst, Hassan Ridgeway and versatile DE/DT Charles Omenihu all UFAs, Ioannidis could be a fill-in if all walk away.

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