49ers roster: 4 biggest questions about the defense in 2021
By Peter Panacy
No. 3: Is the 49ers’ defensive depth going to be sufficient?
It’s unfortunate San Francisco has to think about this, but after being one of the league’s most injured teams the last four years, taking stock of the depth behind a presumed list of starters is an absolute must.
While true for every team any given year, the 49ers know firsthand just what it means to suffer an inordinate number of injuries. 2020 was merely the most recent example.
There are a number of positions that are relatively top-heavy. And after looking at the starters, one can fairly ask some serious questions about the depth and wonder if those positions will suffer a serious setback if one or two of the starters wind up suffering any sort of lengthy injury.
Let’s take the linebacker corps as a prime example.
The Niners have two starting-caliber options here, Dre Greenlaw and the 2020 first-team All-Pro, Fred Warner.
No concerns there. But if San Francisco was to lose either one of those two for a significant length of time, the reserve options available aren’t exactly inspiring.
Perhaps a player like third-year pro Azeez Al-Shaair takes the next step towards becoming a quality piece on the depth chart. Or maybe the undrafted rookie, Justin Hilliard, proves to the team and the rest of the league he was worth a draft pick. Maybe depth linebacker Nathan Gerry, plucked away from the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency, makes strides in his new home.
The problem, though, is each one of those players prompts more question marks than answers, meaning the 49ers better hope their starters, particularly at linebacker, wind up staying healthy for the bulk of 2021.