49ers 2020 ‘Who Is?’ series: Practice squad candidate, Joey Alfieri
By Peter Panacy
Seriously, who is 49ers linebacker Joey Alfieri?
It’s OK if you never heard of San Francisco 49ers linebacker Joey Alfieri.
After all, there’s not a lot of news tied between him and the Niners aside from the December 2019 report from NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco the team inked him to their practice squad. San Francisco retained him heading into 2020, too.
But unless you were privy to the Philadelphia Eagles or New York Giants’ deepest workings of their roster in 2019, or better yet the Stanford Cardinal, this might be the first time you’ve heard Alfieri’s name mentioned.
The 6-foot-2, 239-pound linebacker hasn’t played a snap at the NFL level just yet, starting off his career with the Eagles as an undrafted free agent before being waived, claimed by the Giants, waived again and then picked up by the 49ers late last year. Yet there’s a decent amount of information on him from his college days, and some Pac-12 fans may recall him donning the scarlet in nearby Palo Alto, California.
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A bit undersized for NFL-level edge work, and probably limited almost exclusively to an inside backer role, Alfieri does have some solid speed to his game, running a 4.54 40-yard time at his pro day back in 2018.
And his motor is one of the things that stands out, too.
Yet it’s going to be a long shot for Alfieri to crack the 49ers’ 53-man roster this season. If he does, he’ll have to take off in some areas needing improvement.
Why Joey Alfieri Improves for 49ers in 2020
Again, the motor is arguably Alfieri’s best trait. There isn’t a ton of game tape on him, although his efforts show up well enough in a 2016 game against Kansas State:
Stanford would line him up in a number of different areas on the field, including sending him off the edges. That pass-rush ability showed up at times, including the four sacks and 10 tackles for a loss from his collegiate-best 2016 campaign.
Since Alfieri won’t be able to add too much more weight without impacting his burst, it’s likely he’ll project to being a speed rusher at best. But there are niche roles for situational pass-rushers, especially if they can contribute on special teams.
San Francisco should look to exploit this kind of role in training camp.
Why Joey Alfieri Regresses
In terms of body size, Alfieri is a bit of a tweener and lacks the functional strength to take on bigger, stronger blockers within the pro ranks. Even watching the video above, Alfieri would frequently have issues in one-on-one pass-rushing situations if he got locked up at the snap. And while there were some variety to his moves, he rarely created pressure unless he engaged on a switchback stunt or something similar.
There also isn’t much standing out from his game aside from his straight-line speed. He is OK in coverage, but not great, and his pass-rush ability leaves a lot to be desired. And one could question his instincts as more of an off-ball linebacker at the pro level.
Chances of Joey Alfieri Making 49ers’ 53-Man Roster in 2020
They’re awfully slim, yes. But the Niners must have seen something worth developing to grab him late last season and keep him around into 2020.
That said, San Francisco’s linebacking room is awfully crowded heading into training camp. Behind the starting trio of Kwon Alexander, Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw, the 49ers arguably have only two or three more spots up for grabs.
Mark Nzeocha has a leg up because of his special teams abilities. Joe Walker and Azeez Al-Shaair are competing for spots, too. And let’s not forget the 2020 undrafted rookie, Jonas Griffith, who could be an upstart for a practice squad spot.
In all likelihood, Alfieri’s best chances for sticking around would be on the practice squad, potentially serving as a reserve call-up in case of some serious injury attrition.
Aside from that, you’ll probably only see his name mentioned late in games during the preseason this year.