49ers 2021 Roster Preview: Linebacker

In Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw, San Francisco has two of the three starting linebacker positions set. The question will be who fills the third spot.
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With the start of training camp coming up next week, this is the perfect time to take a look at every player on the San Francisco 49ers roster, and how they fit with the team heading into training camp. Today we will take a look at the linebackers.

Fred Warner

San Francisco made Warner the highest-paid linebacker in the NFL with a new 5-year, $95 million contract that he signed on Wednesday.

Warner’s ability to make plays for the 49ers on a consistent basis was finally rewarded in 2020, as the middle linebacker was named First-Team All Pro for the first time. What’s noteworthy in that accomplishment is that Warner’s performance this past season was pretty much the same as what it was during his first two seasons, and he’s done that with an ever-changing supporting cast.

In 2018, Warner was an unheralded rookie, then in 2019 as the team made its run to the Super Bowl, all of the attention went to Nick Bosa and Richard Sherman. Through it all, Warner has been a steadying force in the middle of the 49ers defense.

Athletic enough to cover wide receivers while defending the pass, and tough enough to stop a running back in the hole while defending the run, Warner is finally being given the praise that he’s deserved.

Dre Greenlaw

Like Warner, Greenlaw has been a consistent force in the middle of the 49ers defense. The 2019 fifth-round draft pick moved into the starting lineup on a regular basis in Week 8 of his rookie season and hasn’t looked back.

Despite missing some time and playing 26 fewer snaps in 2020, Greenlaw would finish with nearly the same number of total tackles and four more tackles for loss during his sophomore campaign.

Azeez Al-Shaair

Al-Shaair signed as an undrafted free agent in 2019, and saw his role in the 49ers grow in 2020. An unheralded member of the 49ers linebacking corps, Al-Shaair was consistent all season.

Playing over 300 snaps, Al-Shaair would nearly double his total number of tackles from his rookie season and haul in his first career interception in week four against the Eagles.

Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles

Flannigan-Fowles played safety in college and made the move to linebacker after signing as an undrafted free agent in 2019. He spent all of his first season on the practice squad, but made the active roster for 2020.

Flannigan-Fowles played in 11 games, finishing with nine tackles. He made his first career start in Week 17 in place of Dre Greenlaw.

James Burgess

Burgess originally signed with the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent in 2016. The following season he would join the Cleveland Browns where he would make his debut and spend the next two seasons.

Burgess would bounce to the New York Jets for the 2019 season before landing with the Green Bay Packers last season.

Over the course of his four-year career, Burgess has played in 31 games, including 21 starts and has tallied 166 tackles, most of which came during the 2017 and 2019 seasons.

Justin Hilliard

The former Ohio State linebacker signed with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent following this year’s draft. Hilliard faced a number of injuries during his time as a Buckeye, and this undoubtedly played a role in him going undrafted.

Hilliard’s a prototypical linebacker whose best position will likely be SAM linebacker. This, along with his ability to play special teams could help him make the final roster. San Francisco is thin at this position and is looking to upgrade its special teams play which saw a drop last season.

2021 Outlook

In Warner and Greenlaw, San Francisco has two of the three starting linebacker positions set. The question will be who fills the third spot and will the team keep one or two additional linebackers on the active roster.

Al-Shaair returns as well, but will need to hold off the like of Flannigan-Fowles, Burgess, and Hilliard to retain that spot.

Another name to keep an eye on when it comes to snaps at linebacker could be Talanoa Hufanga. While Hufanga is technically a safety, they’ve shown a propensity to utilize a safety down to replace the third linebacker depending on matchups. Hufanga was used in a similar role at times while at USC.

*All stats courtesy of pro-football-reference.com and sports-reference.com

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