49ers LB Mark Nzeocha’s role on special teams shouldn’t change

Mark Nzeocha #53 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
Mark Nzeocha #53 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images) /

The 49ers like having special teams ace Mark Nzeocha around, and his role isn’t likely to change as long as he makes the 53-man roster in 2020.

It’s weird to think San Francisco 49ers linebacker Mark Nzeocha was one of the finalists for Pro Bowl voting back in 2018. But he was, at least for a special teams ace.

And that’s why the Niners have regularly kept him around for the past three seasons.

The 6-foot-3, 240-pound 30 year old has carved out a nice career for himself in this role, occasionally getting the fill-in start here and there yet primarily being known for his special teams prowess.

Mark Nzeocha Defense & Fumbles Table
GamesDef InterceptionsFumblesTackles
3 yrsSFO42311012100001.036288115
2 yrsDAL700.0330000

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/22/2020.

A 2015 seventh-round selection of the Dallas Cowboys, Nzeocha began making his mark on San Francisco’s special teams unit and even saw starter’s time with the team when former Niners linebacker Malcolm Smith was out in 2018.

And that interception Nzeocha recorded last season was pretty cool, too:

But that’s not the role for which the Niners pegged Nzeocha to stick around.

While special teams aces are never locks for a 53-man roster solely based on their abilities to contribute here, Nzeocha is arguably the top player within this unit to make the cut aside from the specialists.

As long as there aren’t any notable setbacks.

Why Mark Nzeocha improves with 49ers in 2020

Nzeocha was good on special teams in 2017 and 2018, at least according to Pro Football Focus, where he posted grades of 64.8 and 52.6 in this particular category. But 2019 was special, as he managed an elite-level 90.3 special teams grade.

That’s going to be hard to surpass, of course. But considering San Francisco’s depth at linebacker entering this upcoming season, one might draw conclusions Nzeocha would be able to focus solely on his special teams skills.

Those efforts led to a total of seven tackles on 392 special teams snaps last year, and merely staying line for line in comparison to 2019 would be merely improvement by default.

Why Mark Nzeocha regresses with 49ers in 2020

It’ll be hard to replicate those PFF numbers from last season, meaning Nzeocha is likely heading towards his average mean down in the 60s. And considering the constant flux special teamers typically experience with surrounding personnel, one could assume the linebacker might not experience quite the surge in lane coverage he saw last year.

On top of that, Nzeocha is entering that phase where age could start playing a factor.

Chances of making 49ers’ 53-man roster in 2020, expected role

Nzeocha will count for a cap hit up to $1.5 million this season and is signed through 2021. Yet there’s zero in guaranteed money, meaning San Francisco could move on from the veteran with nothing in dead money.

Situations always get precarious with zero in guarantees left, so it’s not out of the question Nzeocha winds up being one of the team’s roster cuts, particularly if saving money becomes a high priority for general manager John Lynch and Co.

That said, the team seems to like having Nzeocha around, both for his special teams abilities and occasional defensive snaps where he’s shown some moderate prowess.

There are plenty of competitors vying for a spot on the regular-season 53-man roster, however, meaning Nzeocha is still on the roster bubble, even if it’s on the stronger side.

dark. Next. 3 burning questions for 49ers special teams in 2020

If he makes it, one might expect the veteran linebacker to assume the same kind of duties he did last season: primarily special teams work while rotating in on the defense as needed.