It’s not often you ask your rookie fifth-rounder to play 879 snaps during the regular season and playoffs, but that’s what happened with Dre Greenlaw in 2019. Greenlaw made a name for himself twice against Seattle last year. Not only did he intercept Russell Wilson to give the Niners a chance to win in Week 10, but Greenlaw also had one of the most memorable tackles in Week 17 to help preserve an NFC West title.
You’d think those were the only two plays Greenlaw made last year. They were not. Greenlaw made the first tackle of the season, and it resulted in a stop. He finished 2019 with 34 stops and only missed four tackles. For a rookie, Greenlaw was quite impressive. His aggressiveness took him out of some run fits, and, believe it or not, is coverage can improve, but Dre put an incredible amount of good tape on display last year that will make it difficult to keep him off the field in 2020.
Age: 23 (birthday is on May 25)
Weight: 227 pounds
Experience: One accrued season
Greenlaw is under contract through 2022. His total contract’s worth is $2.9 million. In 2020, his cap number will be $755,429. Greenlaw’s cap number won’t surpass a million until the final year of his contract. This is why it’s such a benefit to hit on late=round picks such as Greenlaw—getting a starter that will account for 0.4% of your cap space.
How he can improve in 2020
As the season wore on and Greenlaw began to play more, he began to see the field better and make more plays. Greenlaw would get a bit lost in coverage when it came to relating to wide receivers. Greenlaw allowed 80% of throws his way to be completed, which isn’t a huge deal as he plays underneath, and you’ll take the short throws—especially with the 49ers defense. What’s troublesome is Greenlaw allowed 355 of the total 416 yards he gave up to come after the catch. Limiting YAC and improving angles will go along way in Greenlaw improving his play.
What to expect in 2020
We know Greenlaw will be on the field, but will he play in the 49ers sub-packages over Kwon Alexander? That will play itself out, but if last year were any indication, Alexander would be on the field as he has the higher contract. Does that mean we should pump the brakes on our expectations for the second-year linebacker? Greenlaw has a chance to be a prominent player on the 49ers defense. If that doesn’t happen in 2020, it’s bound to happen in 2021.
Greenlaw exceeded expectations as a rookie in a way that very few have. It helps that he came into the season with minimal expectations to begin with. It’s fair to ask Greenlaw to improve on angles, awareness in coverage, etc. It’s unfair to expect him to blossom into a star after a few highlight plays. I’d expect Greenlaw to continue to improve during his second season, but I’d be surprised if he ended up playing over Alexander.