San Francisco 49ers: 3 players who could take step back in 2020

Jacob Hollister #48 of the Seattle Seahawks stopped by Fred Warner #54 and Dre Greenlaw #57 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Jacob Hollister #48 of the Seattle Seahawks stopped by Fred Warner #54 and Dre Greenlaw #57 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /
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Dre Greenlaw, 49ers
San Francisco 49ers Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh with Dre Greenlaw #57 (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

49ers Linebacker Dre Greenlaw

Any regression from linebacker Dre Greenlaw is likely to happen from the “sophomore slump.” This slump, associated more with baseball players or quarterbacks, is just when the game changes on a young player, making it significantly harder for them. This happens because of increased film.

How does the “sophomore slump” happen?

Essentially, when a player is a rookie, there is little to no film on him. That holds true for a large part of the year. That means that any subtle negative traits or discrepancies can’t be immediately picked up, and these players can play very well because they aren’t getting challenged with their weaknesses.

Well, over the summer, coaches now have a full season of film to use to target these players. Their weaknesses begin to be exploited more and more, and therein lies the slump. The player has to overcome their weaknesses to remove that exploit from the opposing team’s arsenal.

Sound like a mouthful? This study conducted by Harvard will make it even more confusing, but its findings are the same: a sophomore slump does exist.

To visualize, it’s easier to think about in baseball. A rookie who can’t hit a backdoor slider rarely faces them while pitchers have no clue about him. But the next year, that sophomore is only going to get backdoor sliders.

Why would this affect Greenlaw?

Technically, any young player who just got an opportunity is prone to this slump. I didn’t add EDGE Nick Bosa because he was so dynamic, teams started doubling him to mitigate his impact even during the season. So clearly he already faced and had to overcome that increased scrutiny.

Wide receiver Deebo Samuel could deal with this to an extent, but the scheming of head coach Kyle Shanahan would make it more difficult because Samuel would always be used for his strengths.

However, this could definitely happen to the young wide receiver.

In the end, I chose Greenlaw because of two main things. One is that he truly didn’t get a lot of run-time until fellow linebacker Kwon Alexander got injured, and because of that, there really wasn’t a lot to do to exploit him in particular. The next is that he, by virtue of the talent of the 49ers linebacking core, is the worst at coverage. That means that he will likely be targeted much more often as teams move to avoid Fred Warner and Alexander.

Greenlaw has shown flashes of his talent last year, and his youth makes me believe that his trajectory is upward, not downward. However, the last two years have seen two young players in wide receiver Dante Pettis and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon hit that sophomore slump and hit it hard. Greenlaw, out of any of the rookies on the roster, has the most chance to deal with that just because teams will be incentivized to attack him over his teammates.

If Greenlaw shows up next season with oodles of growth, that sophomore slump will turn more into Warner’s sophomore ascendance.