49ers roster 2021: Elijah Sullivan bound for practice squad?

San Francisco 49ers linebacker Elijah Sullivan (59) Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers linebacker Elijah Sullivan (59) Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports /

While the 49ers have linebacker depth questions in 2021, Elijah Sullivan probably winds up spending his rookie year on the practice squad.

The San Francisco 49ers didn’t grab too many undrafted free agents following their actions during the 2021 NFL Draft.

But one of those signed in the hours after the final round ended was former Kansas State linebacker Elijah Sullivan, whose UDFA contract included $125,000 in guaranteed money, according to Over the Cap.

Sullivan, 6-foot-0 and 215 pounds, had a lengthy six-year tenure for the Wildcats where he redshirted his freshman season, then missed all but two games in 2018 with an ACL tear before finishing up as a regular starter in 2019 and 2020.

Elijah Sullivan Defense & Fumbles Table
*2015Kansas StateBig 12FRLB
*2016Kansas StateBig 12FRLB34040.00.000000
*2017Kansas StateBig 12SOLB13235281.01.000012
2018Kansas StateBig 12JRLB27070.00.000000
*2019Kansas StateBig 12JRLB134619655.01.0100.0400
2020Kansas StateBig 12SRLB82812401.50.0144.0000
CareerKansas State108361447.52.0242.0412

Provided by CFB at Sports Reference
Generated 7/13/2021.

Also a special teams ace in college, the Niners may be looking at Sullivan as a developmental depth piece, who can both support a somewhat questionable reserve corps behind the two linebacking starters, Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw, while also contributing on the crucial-but-overlooked third phase of the game.

While the opportunity is certainly there, Sullivan has a long way to go before ensuring he makes a long-term dent in San Francisco’s plans.

Why Elijah Sullivan latches on with 49ers in 2021

A bit small for the position and more of an off-ball weak-side linebacker, Sullivan makes up for the lack of size with solid pursuit skills and doesn’t shy away from his duties in coverage either. In that regard, he’s almost like a smaller-sized safety, which is becoming more prevalent for linebackers in today’s pass-happy NFL.

This should bode well for Sullivan, as this scouting report from Pro Football Network pointed out. And if Sullivan sizes up his opponent, he never hesitates to use his high-running motor to lay out a solid hit.

Plus, with some of the worries about linebacking depth, it wouldn’t be shocking at all to see Sullivan get his fair share of reps during training camp, allowing him the crucial chance to showcase his skills despite his limited physical appearance.

Why Elijah Sullivan winds up being a 49ers ‘work in progress’ in 2021

Again, it’s hard to get around Sullivan’s smaller frame. Even though 49ers fans may recall the brief success of another former small-bodied linebacker, Chris Borland, Sullivan’s over-aggressive tendencies often have worked against him, and it’s not that uncommon to see him miss on pursuit angles despite giving 100 percent.

Yet the biggest weakness will come down to his strength, as he might be equipped solely to tackle smaller slot receivers and running backs, certainly not equipped with the physical attributes to go after bigger-bodied wideouts and tight ends.

That’ll limit his impact regardless of how well he performs during camp and the preseason.

Chances of making 49ers’ 53-man roster

Sullivan sure seems like a would-be dark-horse addition to the Niners’ regular-season roster in 2021, but there are a few things working in his favor.

Having a sizable amount of guarantees for a UDFA helps, and so does the fact San Francisco’s linebacking depth is awfully questionable. True, the 49ers could see more from third-year pro Azeez Al-Shaair, but there aren’t exactly a lot of proven options elsewhere.

As of now, Sullivan is essentially competing with fellow depth linebackers like James Burgess, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles and another UDFA, Ohio State‘s Justin Hilliard.

Read More: 49ers linebacker depth is thin behind Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw

Assuming Al-Shaair makes the cut, that’ll likely mean there’s one more opening on the 53-man roster, so Sullivan would have to beat out both Flannigan-Fowles and Hilliard to hang around into the regular season.

The Niners seem to like Flannigan-Fowles, and Hilliard is intriguing, too. Yet Sullivan’s hard-hitting ways and key knack for special teams could prove to be the deciding factor.

In reality, though, Sullivan is probably best suited to continue his development on the practice squad in year one, potentially emerging as a late-season call-up if San Francisco suffers some sort of injury attrition here.

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