49ers linebacker preview: Bigger year for Fred Warner or Kwon Alexander?

Kwon Alexander recently vowed to join his 49ers teammates next year on the NFL Network’s Top 100 list.

Good to have goals. Fellow 49ers linebacker Fred Warner debuted on that list this year, clocking in at No. 70 — and climbing.

The 49ers linebacker corps revolves more around Warner than Alexander, as last season’s success proved, but having both in the lineup would be a boon for Super Bowl hopes. Add in 2019 Seattle stopper Dre Greenlaw and the 49ers’ unit looks even stronger.

Let’s take a closer look at the 49ers linebackers:


Fred Warner: The Pro Bowl and even All-Pro honors are realistic goals for one of the NFL’s top emerging linebackers. He’s started every game through two seasons and is improving in coverage.

Kwon Alexander: In reworking his contract last season, Alexander’s base salary balloons from $976,000 this season to $12.6 million in 2021, so he’ll need a superb 2020 to justify a high paycheck, even if another restructuring is done. Pectoral and biceps surgeries within the past year are concerning but he seems intent on a “legendary” comeback tour.

Dre Greenlaw: The money is on Alexander to start at weak-side linebacker, where Greenlaw filled in for him the final eight games last regular season. Spectacular, goal-line plays against Seattle — an interception at Levi’s Stadium, a fourth-down stop at Seattle — show just how athletic and intuitive Greenlaw is. Strong-side linebacker is his likely job if he doesn’t unseat Alexander at weak-side.


Mark Nzeocha: Had eight special-teams tackles while appearing in all 19 games last season, which was highlighted by his Week 1 interception at Tampa in place of an ejected Alexander.

Azeez Al-Shaair: Another year removed from ACL reconstruction should help his roster bid, after making last year’s club as an undrafted rookie. He was inactive all postseason.

Joe Walker: After two seasons with the Eagles and the last two with the Cardinals, the 49ers get a veteran with starting experience who can excel on special teams. Does this newcomer take a roster spot from Nzeocha or Al-Shaair?Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles: He has the versatility to play linebacker and safety. A leg injury last December sent him onto the practice squad’s injured reserve list.

Jonas Griffith: This undrafted rookie from Indiana State made 50 tackles for loss in his career there.