Radio Row

How Willis wowed ex-49ers teammate Robinson in rookie season

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Patrick Willis' NFL greatness soon could be acknowledged with entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2024.

But former 49ers fullback Michael Robinson, who spent three seasons with Willis in San Francisco, recognized the special talent that Willis was well before he became a Hall of Fame finalist.

Aside from Willis' eight seasons of dominance on the field with the 49ers, it was the linebacker's off-the-field approach that most impressed Robinson early on.

"The guy was always the last guy in the building," Willis told NBC Sports Bay Area's Laura Britt on Radio Row in Las Vegas ahead of Super Bowl LVIII. "You would see [former 49ers quarterback] Alex Smith leave before Patrick Willis. He lived in the building. He lived in the weight room. He always tried to be the first one on his nutrition. And I thought, him being that young, I was like, 'Wow he's thinking about nutrition? He was just in college!' I was in my second year and I hadn't even thought about nutrition.

"So he kind of taught me from afar what being a first-round pro looks like. So I think he should get in [to the Hall of Fame]. I think he's one of the most unique players that our league has ever seen."

Willis entered the league one season after Robinson when San Francisco selected him with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. From that point, his impact was nearly immediate.

The versatile linebacker changed the way the position was played and the 49ers utilized him in a variety of different ways, including pass coverage -- man-to-man and zone -- against backs and tight ends.

"When Patrick Willis puts hands on you, you go down," Robinson said. "Trust me. I practiced against him and I played against him. You go down."

Willis was a seven-time Pro Bowl player in his eight seasons, was named first-team All-Pro five times and was selected to the NFL All-Decade team for the 2010s. He is one of 15 modern-era finalists for the Hall of Fame, which can elect no more than five candidates.

The announcement will come Thursday night, and Robinson, current and former 49ers and the entire 49ers Faithful will be watching closely in hopes of hearing the news they've been waiting for.

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