49ers roster 2021: Bubble watch ahead of preseason Week 1
By Peter Panacy
49ers Bubble Watch: Linebacker
Lock: Dre Greenlaw, Fred Warner
Strong Bubble: Azeez Al-Shaair, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, Jonas Griffith
Weak Bubble: James Burgess Jr., Justin Hilliard
Long Shot: Donald Payne, Elijah Sullivan
Like cornerback, the Niners are notably top-heavy at linebacker but don’t necessarily have as big of injury concerns with Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw.
Azeez Al-Shaair was banged up earlier in camp with a knee injury, but the setback wasn’t considered serious, and there’s a good chance he’ll be back on the field in time for Week 1. And by all accounts from camp before his injury, Al-Shaair was well on his way towards securing a spot as the No. 3 option anyway.
The battle for the fourth and likely final linebacking spot on the regular-season roster is fully up for grabs, though, and it should be a pretty heated competition between top candidates like Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, Jonas Griffith and one of the two undrafted rookies, Justin Hilliard and Elijah Sullivan.
Hilliard and Sullivan, both of whom endured plenty of injuries during their collegiate careers, might be better candidates for the practice squad in year one, especially considering San Francisco has long liked Flannigan-Fowles’ pass-coverage skills and special teams abilities.
Experience trumps rookie promise in this particular case.