Shayne Skov battled a knee injury midway through his college career, a calf injury just before the NFL scouting combine and a hamstring injury prior to his pro day at Stanford.
That string of bad breaks – which translated into a sluggish 5.1-second 40-yard dash prior to the draft – helps explain why Skov, once viewed as one of the top inside linebackers in the country, wasn’t drafted last week.
Skov said he was surprised by the snub, which has created a sizable chip on his shoulder as he prepares for what could be the 49ers’ best offseason position battle.
“When public opinion and people’s perceptions are different than your own, then obviously you’re going to take that a little bit personally,” Skov, who signed a free-agent contract with the 49ers, said Thursday. “But at the end of the day, I’m a football player. From here on out, my play and my abilities are going to dictate whether I see the field or not and what my future is as a player.”
Skov played for 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio for one season at Stanford and is more familiar with the 49ers’ defense than any of the team’s rookies. The 49ers will have an opening at inside linebacker while NaVorro Bowman recovers from an ACL tear in January.
Still, San Francisco is a curious choice for a free-agent linebacker who was heavily courted by a number of teams – including the Raiders – and considering the team used a third-round draft pick on Wisconsin inside linebacker Chris Borland.
General manager Trent Baalke raved about Borland’s instincts and tough-guy mentality after the selection last Friday. Borland set a Big 10 record for forced fumbles and was the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year last season. Veterans Michael Wilhoite and Nick Moody, a sixth-round pick a year ago, also will compete at the position.
Skov said he followed the top linebackers in the nation from afar and that Borland, just 5-foot-11, always stuck out.
“I think it’s funny that everyone’s always trying to knock Chris’ height and everything,” Skov said. “But if you watch him play, he plays way bigger than any of his measurables. He’s a phenomenal player, and I’ve always thought that.”
Borland said he’s asked Skov questions about what he did at Stanford as the duo goes through “football school” this week with the rest of the 49ers’ rookies and newcomers. He said Skov might be a bit ahead right now, “but I’m catching up quickly.”
Skov said he chose the 49ers because “there was a genuine desire from the coaching staff for me to be here.” While the leg injuries slowed him, he insisted he’s 100 percent now and would run in the 4.8-second range if he was timed in the 40-yard dash.
“I’m not a speed demon,” he said. “But I know I’m fast enough. If you turn on my game tape, that’s never been a question.”
Skov stormed into the national spotlight in the Orange Bowl in 2011, in what would be Fangio’s and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh’s final game at Stanford. He had 12 tackles and three sacks and broke up a pass, establishing himself as one of the top young linebackers in the country.
A severe knee injury, however, wiped out his 2011 season, and he wasn’t back up to speed in 2012. Last year, however, he had the best statistical season of his career, including 109 tackles, 13 for loss, and 51/2 sacks. He was particularly good against Oregon’s notoriously speedy offense, with nine tackles, including two for losses.
“The coaches have a belief in me and my abilities as a player,” Skov said. “And I have a belief in me. Obviously, I’m an undrafted free agent, so I have to get to work and prove myself, but I think I’ve got that opportunity here.”