49ers 2020 ‘Who Is?’ series: Azeez Al-Shaair on the bubble?

Azeez Al-Shaair #51 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Azeez Al-Shaair #51 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) /

It’s possible 49ers linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair loses a roster spot in 2020.

Undrafted rookies always have a tough road, and 49ers linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair was no exception to this when the Niners picked him up shortly after the 2019 NFL Draft.

An initial prognosis would have likely suggested Al-Shaair would be tabbed as a training camp body, at the worst, and probably at best a practice squad addition his rookie season. The former Florida Atlantic standout had himself a modestly impressive collegiate career before going undrafted, thanks mostly to an ACL injury, and San Francisco already had a good deal of depth at the position anyway.

Yet Al-Shaair turned enough heads in camp and the preseason, forcing his way onto the team’s 53-man roster and allowing the 49ers to move on from veteran linebacker David Mayo, whom they signed as a free agent earlier in the offseason.

Primarily used on special teams, Al-Shaair saw action in 15 regular-season games and even started four of them, thanks largely to the elongated injury suffered by starting linebacker Kwon Alexander. During that time, Al-Shaair ended up recording 18 tackles, but those don’t quite tell the whole story.

Al-Shaair mostly held his own on special teams, yes. But when asked to fill voids on defense, he was something of a liability. Pro Football Focus awarded him with a lowly 42.1 defensive grade and credited him with six missed tackles, which was second most among Niners reserve players a year ago.

That won’t bode well for him entering his second season, so Niner Noise looks at how Al-Shaair can improve and whether or not he stands a good chance to make the 53-man roster in 2020.

Why Azeez Al-Shaair Improves with the 49ers in 2020

It’s important to note Al-Shaair missed all but six games his senior year, and the lack of recent field time before his rookie season could have hindered his adjustment and development. ACL injuries can be especially tough on linebackers, particularly in their sideline-to-sideline movement. So it’s fair to assume Al-Shaair wasn’t quite at 100 percent a year ago.

This 2019 scouting report from SB Nation’s Hogs Haven pointed out how Al-Shaair was more than adept at good tackling, too, which could mean an inevitable improvement in that department is on his way.

After all, it’s not like Al-Shaair went from a promising sleeper prospect to a fringe player overnight.

Why Azeez Al-Shaair Regresses in 2020

Al-Shaair didn’t start playing football until late in high school, although that seems to have been no hindrance to him at the college level.

Yet that same scouting report suggested a certain rawness to the linebacker’s game, which definitely showed up on tape watching Al-Shaair misread angles and improperly make tackles on defense.

It’s entirely possible that’s just who Al-Shaair is: a decent linebacker for teams needing depth help, yet not someone who can be tabbed an up-and-comer for a potential starting role. It would be one thing if San Francisco was shorthanded at the position, opening up more first- and second-team reps during training camp. But the Niners have plenty of bodies who could ultimately push Al-Shaair off the roster before Week 1.

Chances of Making the 49ers’ 53-Man Roster

Simply put, Al-Shaair is on the roster bubble. His upsides may help him stay towards the stronger side of the bubble, but there’s a lot to be done for him to ensure he sticks around into the regular season.

A big checkmark for why Al-Shaair could be back on the fringes is the Niners bringing aboard veteran linebacker Joe Walker, formerly of the Arizona Cardinals. Walker, a four-year veteran, also has special teams prowess along with 14 pro-level starts under his belt.

Right now, it would seem Walker would be Al-Shaair’s primary competition to support the starting trio of linebackers Alexander, Dre Greenlaw and Fred Warner.

Al-Shaair will need to make some serious strides in training camp, and cleaning up some of those missed tackles would be an excellent way to accomplish this. If that area of his game is addressed, one can look at Al-Shaair as a much safer bet to be included on the 53-man roster.

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If not, being waived is much more likely an outcome.