After trading away linebacker Dekoda Watson earlier Saturday morning, the San Francisco 49ers used their first of two fifth-round selections (acquired from the Denver Broncos) to take another linebacker, Arkansas’s Dre Greenlaw.
The 5-foot-11, 237-pounder is shorter and stouter than Watson, and has been described as undersized. That said, he excells in man coverage and, like San Francisco’s two second-day picks, is physical with a lot of fight in him.
“Dre is a guy, competition at the linebacker spot, whether it be the stack or the SAM linebacker, you know, he’s a guy who can compete to play,” said general manager John Lynch. “We had him a lot higher on our board and so we were surprised frankly that he had dropped this far and felt like there was tremendous value in the pick.”
After spending six years as a ward of the state of Arkansas, Greenlaw was adopted and became a three-star recruit, earning All-State honors his senior year with 119 tackles, four picks and 10 pass breakups, doubling as a linebacker and a safety. He signed with the Razorbacks in 2015. He earned All-Freshman honors in the SEC, with 95 tackles in 11 starts, including 3.5 tackles for loss.
“Coming from that safety spot and having to cover, learn coverages, it’s just helped me with my all-around game, knowing the game,” Greenlaw said via conference call. “I played corner, and just having that knowledge of what everybody else around me is doing, when I kind of got to that linebacker spot, I was able to pick it up fast because I was able to understand what the defense, the position I was supposed to be in. So, just having that previous knowledge and that skillset of covering people and bringing it to the linebacker spot, it made me job as far as coverage that much easier.”
He missed six regular-season games with a broken foot as a sophomore (42 tackles in seven starts), and injured that foot again in the team’s bowl game.
Healthy in 2017, Greenlaw made 103 tackles, including 1.5 for a loss as a 12-game starer as a stack linebacker at the WILL. He missed time again with a high ankle sprain as a senior, but in nine games (eight starts), he made 80 tackles, including 6.5 for a loss, with two sacks and two interceptions.
He didn’t run a 40 at the NFL Scouting combine, but did run it at his pro day. He ran a 4.73.
“He ran a 4.73, but the reports out of Arkansas is that like on the catapult, the GPS stuff, he’s the fastest player on their team,” Lynch said. “That shows up on film. Very good football player, and we felt like it was really a solid pick to add some depth there at linebacker for us, and we’re really high on the kid, too. We met with him in Indy and felt very good about him.”
Very productive when healthy, Greenlaw has a nose for the ball, and is a fluid athlete who can run sideline to sideline. He was rated as a 5.20 prospect — NFL backup or special teamer — by scouts. San Francisco’s linebacker coach DeMarco Ryans saw Greenlaw while coaching against him in the Senior Bowl.
“I had a lot of contact with coach Ryans as far as at the Senior Bowl,” Greenlaw said. “He just said he really liked my film and he saw some of my practice tape and liked some of the stuff I did, and that’s kind of the only contact I had. I was supposed to go down for a 30 visit with them, and they canceled the 30 visit, and that really hurt my heart, and I was like, I thought then that it was done, and it panned out they still wanted me. I’m blessed”
One of the reasons the 49ers canceled the visit in part to keep observers guessing. It worked.
“Everything today after the punter was really just, who do we think had chances to make our team, not necessarily we have to go get this guy,” said head coach Kyle Shanahan. “It’s who left has the best chance to make our team? I think we started right there because that was a guy who we had ranked higher. We thought he would go. We were a little surprised that he was there, and he does have a very good opportunity to make our team, and we feel fortunate to get him where we did.”