No. 3: SF 49ers Linebacker Dre Greenlaw
This is sort of admission by default, as the Niners boast a trio of linebackers all capable of starting. And it would depend on what an analyst’s viewpoint on a starter would be anyway.
In base formations, three linebackers would be on the field — a SAM, MIKE and WILL — and second-year pro Dre Greenlaw already solidified himself as a regular SAM backer last season. It’s also helpful to acknowledge San Francisco modified its defense last year to make all three spots much more interchangeable.
But base defenses are becoming more of a rarity in today’s pass-happy NFL, and some would argue teams’ nickel packages are essentially the “base defense” today. Last year, according to Football Outsiders, the 49ers used nickel packages 70 percent of the time, equating to one of those three linebackers coming off the field during such instances.
From Oct. 31 to the end of the regular season, Greenlaw stepped in as a starter for injured linebacker Kwon Alexander, who tore his pectoral on Halloween against the Arizona Cardinals. Greenlaw eventually started 11 games, making him a candidate for this list since it’s likely he’ll be the third in the pecking order behind Alexander and Fred Warner in the Niners’ linebacking depth chart.
Simply put, expect Greenlaw to see a bit less field time in 2020 as long as the other two players stay healthy.
Thankfully, it’s not a knock on Greenlaw. If anything, it’s the reality of San Francisco’s depth here.