San Francisco 49ers: 3 strongest position groups on 2020 roster

Nick Bosa #97 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Nick Bosa #97 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /
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Fred Warner, 49ers
Fred Warner #54 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

No. 2: 49ers Linebackers

The linebacking core of the 2020 Niners has begun to remind me of an older linebacking core of the 49ers with Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Although these current Niners will need a little more to reach that 2012 and 2013 defensive peak, this linebacking core is no joke.

It starts at the top with Fred Warner, whose sophomore year vaulted him into the upper echelon of off-ball linebackers in the NFL. He was solid against the run and spectacular against the pass, finishing with the fifth-most pass breakups despite a low volume of targets. His “Peanut-Punch” of the football was electric, and he stabilized the defense overall.

If Warner was the stabilizer, then Kwon Alexander, the free-agent acquisition, was the energizer. With him came exceptional pass coverage, energy and ferocity to the defense that couldn’t be quantified. Alexander did have some issues against the run, and although his effort to play in the Super Bowl was valiant, it wasn’t the most productive outing. That said, with Alexander, the weakside linebacker was no longer a liability for the team. He also, despite being on his second contract, is young with room to grow, so there is potential to be found.

And finally, the emerging starter that played strong against the Seahawks and in general, Dre Greenlaw. The 2019 fifth-round pick out of Arkansas picked off quarterback Russell Wilson during the first bout between the Niners and the Seahawks and then laid down the law against tight end Jacob Hollister in Week 17 to push the 49ers into the NFC one-seed.

Beyond his heroics, Greenlaw also just filled in well as a starter. His pass coverage improved as the year went on while his run defense graded out as better than Alexander’s. With Greenlaw, the 49ers obtained yet another high-ceiling linebacker, it seems.

Those three players, when all healthy, provide a fantastic position group, one of the more talented ones on the roster. The backups at linebacker aren’t spectacular, though Mark Nzeocha made a few plays, but with three quality linebackers in a league that is increasingly moving to nickel (five defensive backs) coverage, that’s plenty of depth and pushes the linebackers to No. 2.