Mark Nzeocha was seen in 2018 as a depth piece who could contribute on special teams. He offered some linebacking space in case of injury (or a legal issue) and could be a banshee on special teams.
And that’s pretty much Nzeocha in a nutshell. In 2018 he appeared in all 16 games (a rarity among the roster) and started in three. He finished up with 17 tackles, and one sack, decent numbers for special teams depth. It also was a vast improvement from his 2017 where he was inactive for four games and played for 10 games. Note that his 2017 was largely for special teams snaps.
Nzeocha began in the NFL as a seventh-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 2015. He was on the 53-man roster seven games in 2015 and all 16 games in 2016. In 2017, he was released and signed to the practice squad at the start of the season before eventually going to the 49ers.
Experience: 4 accrued seasons
Weight: 240 pounds
He signed a three-year deal with the 49ers. His 2019 cap hit is $1,650,00. If cut it’s a $750,000 dead money hit.
What to expect in 2019
Nzeocha has shown steady improvement throughout his career. He appeared in all 16 games last year, starting in some even, as opposed to 10 in 2017. Yes, the 49ers were banged up and had a linebacker released, but it still says something that they didn’t look elsewhere to find someone to fill in.
That improvement should continue through 2019. If Nzeocha sees the field for an extended stretch, something has gone wrong, but he has shown he can fill in and hold down the fort for short bursts when needed. It’s not flashy, but it’s dependable and that’s all you need.
If he makes the team, you’ll see him running around on special teams most of the time and that will be it. The 49ers have Dre Greenlaw fighting for playing time and Elijah Lee trying to get on the field as well, both are better options than Nzeocha. Or maybe his improvement can get him above those two.
Odds of making the roster
Nzeocha has filled in admirably at the linebacker position and shown steady improvement. There’s just two problems:
First, the 49ers have Kwon Alexander, Fred Warner, Elijah Lee, and Dre Greenlaw ahead of him. Two (Alexander and Warner) are mainstays given the money/production, one (Lee) has shown he’s incredible depth and one (Greenlaw) is a draft pick going into his rookie season.
The other problem? The 49ers have a loaded wide receiver group and they very well may keep seven in 2019, an increase from six in 2018. This might sound ridiculous, but given the talent and decisions to make it’s got to be on the table. If they do it, another position will get trimmed and if any position is going to get the ax, it’s the linebacking group. That puts Nzeocha as the odd man out given the above names.
He’s on a strong bubble to make the roster, but he could very well have things beyond his control dictate whether the 49ers keep him or not. The 49ers added to the linebacking unit in free agency and the draft. On the flipside, they did sign him to a three-year deal so they may just keep him around knowing that he’s only going to get better.