Breaking down the 90 players on the 49ers offseason roster in 90 posts (over 90 or so days). Today is linebacker Dre Greenlaw
Dre Greenlaw burst onto the scene in 2019 with a game-changing interception against Seattle earlier in the year, then “the hit” to help seal the NFC West crown for the Niners. Greenlaw had high expectations entering 2020, but he would end up missing a few games due to injury.
He ended up having a better season as Greenlaw had more tackles for loss and looked more sure of himself in his second season. Last year was when Greenlaw was supposed to put it all together.
But a groin injury in Week 1 sidelined Greenlaw until Week 12. Greenlaw wound up playing three games all season after being banged up. History suggests soft tissue injuries don’t disappear. So, will 2022 be any different for Greenlaw?
Experience: Three accrued seasons
Weight: 227 pounds
This is a critical year for Greenlaw’s future as he’ll be an unrestricted free agent after this season. Greenlaw’s cap hit is $2.6 million, but he’s only guaranteed the protated portion of his bonus, which is $80,429. If, and this is a big if, the 49ers don’t feel as though Greenlaw is performing, they could release him and save $2.5 million. That figure doesn’t change if Greenlaw is traded.
For a team that doesn’t have enough money to sign its draft picks, it wouldn’t be a surprise if San Francisco parted ways with Greenlaw, especially coming off a season where he only started three games.
Why he’ll improve in 2022
Being on the field for more than three games won’t hurt. In Week 1 of last year, Greenlaw intercepts Jared Goff for a pick-six. Greenlaw looked lost at times, as Fred Warner and Jaquiski Tartt had to make sure Greenlaw was lined up in the correct spots against the Rams in Week 18. That didn’t stop him from making plays.
In the final game of the season, for all of the marbles, Greenlaw had 12 tackles, a tackle for loss, and a pressure. He also allowed only eight yards on four targets.
Greenlaw continued to play at a high level during the playoffs, where the team played him, not Azeez Al-Shaair. Greenlaw’s mentality isn’t something you can teach. He’s a wrecking ball, despite his stature. We all know he’s fast, but his physicality was a game-changer in each of the three playoff games.
If Greenlaw is on the field, he’ll be better. He’s an ideal fit in DeMeco Ryans defense, where Dre can “run and hit” without having to diagnose or think too much. When the game is simple, and fast players can play fast, they tend to do well. For Greenlaw, it’s all about health.
What to expect in 2022
Greenlaw missed so much time that the cerebral part of his game, where he grows mentally and becomes more aware in zone, for example, didn’t have a chance to grow. So, I’m not sure what to expect.
Athletically, it doesn’t get much better than Greenlaw. You have to be a bit reckless to excel at linebacker, and Dre has that, too. Finding the fine line between recklessly taking on blockers without overrunning assignments, or being caught flat-footed, is where Greenlaw can take the next step.
Will Greenlaw start more than ten games? He needs to prove he can hold up for a full season. In a contract year, if he does, Greenlaw could make himself a lot of money next offseason.