'Deserves' Pro Football Hall of Fame nod; Warner influenced by Willis

Santa Clara— A famous 49ers linebacker may have a good week. On Thursday night, the team's standout linebackers will watch the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2024 announcement.

An eight-year NFL veteran and five-time first-team All-Pro, Patrick Willis is one of 15 modern-era finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which may pick just five.

“He fully deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, and he’s going to get in very soon,” three-time All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner told NBC Sports Bay Area on "49ers Talk." “I’m thrilled for him.” The 49ers had Willis and NaVorro Bowman before Warner and Dre Greenlaw patrolled the middle. Harris and Bowman continue to inspire Warner and Greenlaw.

The way they played the game back in the day and the example and standard they set, there was no duo better,” Greenlaw said. Warner said, “Two All-Pro linebackers at the same time on the same field, that’s what we aim to do.

Willis altered the game as a 2007 49ers first-round pick. Before then, most inside linebackers were intended to shed blocks and fill run game holes. But Willis was more than a thumper. He provided sideline-to-sideline range and man-to-man and zone pass coverage against backs and tight ends.

Still, Willis-like players are rare. The 49ers have had great linebacker success for almost a decade with Bowman, Warner, and Greenlaw after Willis. The current 49ers linebackers admire Willis on and off the field. In recent years, Willis, 39, has spent more time with Warner and Greenlaw.

We started connecting and talking back and forth,” Warner said. I've only received affection from him. Of course, that's one of my role models for linebacker excellence—or football in general.” Greenlaw claimed he talks to Willis often. When they shared memories at training camp, they connected. Willis and Greenlaw had rough childhoods and spent time in foster care.

“I was able to talk to him a little more on a personal level beyond football,” Greenlaw added. “His character pleased me. He had a tough background, too. “I struggle with various things. I like talking to others who've been through the same thing or are on the other side. He's one of those individuals who's willing to chat about anything