49ers roster: 5 sleepers to watch as breakout stars in 2021

Jeff Wilson #30 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Jeff Wilson #30 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /
2 of 5
Azeez Al-Shaair, San Francisco 49ers, Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett (16) tackled by San Francisco 49ers linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair (51) Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

49ers Sleeper No. 4: Linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair

The 49ers already have two starting-caliber linebackers on their roster with third-year pro Dre Greenlaw and the first-team All-Pro, Fred Warner.

So there’s a good chance fans won’t hear too much about third-year linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, who went from an undrafted free agent who struggled in his scant on-field opportunities in 2019 to being a quality depth piece in 2020.

That said, Al-Shaair’s improvements are worth noting.

Pro Football Focus awarded Al-Shaair with a solid-if-unspectacular 61.0 overall grade last year on 305 defensive snaps, which was up nearly 20 points from the 42.1 overall grade he received his rookie season.

Quite the boost in improvement, which saw Al-Shaair record 35 tackles, including one for a loss, with one quarterback hit, two passes broken up and a forced fumble.

True, Al-Shaair’s pass-coverage skills aren’t that great. But as a solid run-stopping linebacker, it’s likely Al-Shaair will wind up seeing plenty of time on base downs where he can look to make another leap, potentially working his way into the rotation on a more frequent basis.

If so, Al-Shaair could end up being a valuable commodity within the Niners defense.