No. 2: Linebackers
The best position group on the 49ers defense goes to the linebackers, who overtook the defensive line, thanks to the emergence of Dre Greenlaw and the surprising talent of young rookies.
Much like the 49ers defensive line comes and goes with Nick Bosa, so too with the 49ers linebackers and Fred Warner.
"All-Pro" Fred, as he's named, is one of the few players in the NFL who allows an entire defensive scheme to work. His ability to cover receivers down the middle of the field uniquely changes how the 49ers can call defenses because he does things that other middle linebackers simply cannot do. He is the best linebacker in the NFL currently and entering the prime of his career.
Warner, though, is joined by Greenlaw, who took his own leap from solid to sensational last year. The 2019 Week 17 hero actually led the 49ers in tackles over Warner, and his aggressive attitude at linebacker endeared him to Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers brass. Greenlaw has, over the course of his career, cleaned up his missed tackles and improved his play recognition, and he is now a top-10 linebacker in the NFL.
Beyond this star-studded duo, the 49ers have a solid base of backups. Both Oren Burks and Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles are better on special teams than on the field, but they could fill in if necessary, and one of them will likely be the "SAM" linebacker who's on the field when the 49ers play their base 4-3 defense.
The real upside of this position comes from the two rookies: Dee Winters and Jalen Graham. Both of them were long shots to make the roster, and both played so exceptionally well, it was a foregone conclusion that they'd make the 53-man roster. Winters has played more of that "WILL"/"SAM" linebacker role, the linebacker who reads and reacts, whereas Graham was tasked with signal-calling for the backups, a tremendous responsibility to be given as a rookie.
By the end of the year, it would be unlikely if neither Winters nor Graham has taken over that third linebacking position. It is the perfect combination at linebacker for the 49ers: established stars mixed with promising rookies.
But it is not enough to be the best position group on the 49ers.