It wasn’t too surprising to see rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw, San Francisco’s fifth-round pickup, named the starting SAM backer when Week 1 rolled around. Greenlaw’s strong ascent prompted the 49ers to part ways with the veteran, Malcolm Smith, just ahead of roster cuts.
By all accounts, Greenlaw has held his own early this season. He’s managed eight tackles on the year, and Pro Football Focus has given him a respectable 68.5 overall grade.
So why isn’t Greenlaw listed higher?
Well, SAM linebackers aren’t quite as relevant in today’s pass-happy NFL, where the strong-side player often comes out of the formation in favor for an extra defensive back.
As such, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise Greenlaw has seen just 86 snaps, compared to the 176 snaps played by this group’s leader, second-year linebacker Fred Warner.
The relative lack of importance keeps Greenlaw from being higher on this list. But that doesn’t eliminate his potential as a key role player and backup.