Like safety, this is another hard position to grade based off a number of notable factors.
The biggest, of course, was the November release of linebacker Reuben Foster after his third arrest of 2018. Considering the lofty investment to grab him in the 2017 NFL Draft, that failed experiment sets this position back, grade-wise, a great deal. Simply put, it’s too large a setback to be ignored.
That said, the Niners did get some excellent production out of rookie linebacker Fred Warner, who took over the all-important MIKE role calling defensive plays.
Warner had some tackling issues early in the season, missing a team-high 16 tackles on the year. But those evaporated a lot in the second half, and he ended up finishing with a team-high 90 tackles, which is a testament to how often he was around the ball.
Additionally, reserve linebacker Elijah Lee looked promising enough in the second half to suggest he’ll have a key role in 2019.
Yet another aspect downgrading this unit plenty last season was veteran linebacker Malcolm Smith, who started off the year injured and was a relative forgotten commodity down the stretch. Considering the 49ers signed Smith to a five-year, $26.5 million contract in 2017, and he missed his first year in San Francisco with a pectoral injury, the veteran’s presence has vastly missed expectations.