The San Francisco 49ers brought aboard former Arkansas linebacker Dre Greenlaw, who figures to provide solid depth and special teams ability during his rookie season.
The San Francisco 49ers‘ failed attempt to get the most out of their 2017 first-round NFL Draft pick, Reuben Foster, prompted general manager to execute one of two key moves during the 2019 offseason.
Greenlaw has his own unique collegiate story, one which came about just after the Niners took him, regarding how he essentially saved one of his classmates from what would have likely been a sexual assault.
In addition to that, there was a lot to like about the 5-foot-11, 237-pound linebacker from his Razorback days, too.
Greenlaw was a tackling machine, particularly during his junior year, and it’s usually good to see that from a pursuit linebacker. It often means he’s around the ball a lot, which is what the 49ers will want him to do if he winds up seeing ample playing time this season.
So, how will Greenlaw go about solidifying his role with San Francisco in 2019?
Niner Noise’s “Who Is?” series takes a deeper look.
Why Dre Greenlaw Improves in 2019
As noted above, Greenlaw is the kind of player who likes to fly to the ball. Ideally, he’d line up as a weak-side, playmaking linebacker, which would allow him to handle both rushing duties and clean up breakthroughs towards the middle of the line of scrimmage.
Yet Greenlaw is more than adept at coverage, too. This makes him something of an interchangeable part in San Francisco’s defense, and it wouldn’t be shocking at all to see him used as a primary backup at all three spots.
Why Dre Greenlaw Regresses
While the tackling numbers are impressive and Greenlaw has a knack for getting to the ball quickly, there wasn’t much about him jumping out as a true playmaker or impact defender.
In many cases, Greenlaw seemed more reactive than instinctive. And while he is more than able to get to ball carriers quickly, he often finds himself in pursuit instead of being on the proactive side of things, recognizing would be routes and anticipating them properly.
Greenlaw is also a bit shorter than one would ideally like to be for the position, although he did bulk up on weight during the offseason, which will be needed.
It will be interesting to see whether or not that physical change affects his game play.
Projected Role with the 49ers in 2019
San Francisco has two of its three linebacker spots all but set for the upcoming season, with Alexander manning the weak-side (WILL) spot, while second-year pro Fred Warner resumes his MIKE duties.
What’s open, however, is the strong-side (SAM) linebacker.
The veteran, Malcolm Smith, has been practicing here with the first-team unit during organized team activities. Meanwhile, Alexander continues to rehab from his 2018 ACL tear, while Warner is out until training camp with a knee injury.
As a result, Greenlaw has been seeing extensive time during OTAs, which increases his value.
That’s a bonus, and there’s another caveat to consider here. The Niners’ switch to a wide-9 alignment means the SAM linebacker no longer needs to be bigger and more physical on the line of scrimmage, meaning the three linebacking spots are much more interchangeable now.
Greenlaw should be poised to back up all three positions this season, while also doubling on special teams.
That’s definitely not a bad position to be in for a fifth-round NFL Draft pick.