Dre Greenlaw absence glaring in PFF LB rankings for 2024

Pro Football Focus is dolling out its positional rankings for the 2024 season. The 49ers are typically well-represented atop these rankings, and the linebacker list is no exception. Fred Warner is the No. 1-ranked off-ball LB in the sport according to the football analytics site. Warner is undeniably important to the 49ers’ defense and he is rightfully placed atop the list. What’s more important for San Francisco is the absence of LB Dre Greenlaw in the rankings.

This isn’t to say that PFF should’ve ranked Greenlaw. He tore his Achilles during the Super Bowl in February which puts serious doubt on if/when he’ll be able to participate in the 2024 campaign. Greenlaw is ambitiously aiming for a Week 1 return, while 49ers general manager John Lynch is of the belief Greenlaw will start the season on PUP. Whether the LB suits up at all is certainly still a question as his recovery from the injury continues. Not ranking him is the right move for a list looking to curate the top 32 players at the position for the 2024 season.

What his absence from the list does is underscore the hole he leaves in the 49ers’ defense. It won’t be easy to replace his production. That was abundantly clear in the Super Bowl when the Chiefs took advantage of Greenlaw’s replacement Oren Burks for a handful of key receptions late in the game.

The good news is the 49ers appear to have added an upgraded at LB when they signed free agent De’Vondre Campbell. He was an All-Pro in 2021 and earned PFF’s highest overall grade among regular off-ball LBs. Campbell is still a good player, but not playing at an All-Pro level after two up-and-down seasons for Green Bay in 2022 and 2023.

There’s a chance getting Campbell into the 49ers’ defense and playing alongside Warner will help him elevate his game back toward where it was in 2021. That alone would do wonders for mitigating the loss of Greenlaw.

San Francisco also has a couple of younger options with 2023 draft picks Dee Winters and Jalen Graham. Lynch actually invoked Greenlaw’s name when talking about Winters after the draft.

While there are some options hanging out on the roster, finding an adequate replacement for Greenlaw isn’t going to be an easy task. He was ranked 21st in overall defensive grade among LBs last season for PFF. The year before that he ranked No. 8 in that category.

Greenlaw is a terrific athlete who is a tone-setter on the 49ers’ defense (though sometimes to his detriment). He’s an aggressive, downhill run stopper who has enough speed to play in coverage against virtually any player who’ll be in a route in his area. Alongside Warner they make up the best LB duo in the NFL on a defense that has made a living out of taking away easy throws in the middle of the field thanks to their high-IQ, athletic LBs.

The 49ers defense is still plenty talented and they should be very good again in 2024, but they’re undeniably worse when Greenlaw isn’t on the field. His absence from PFF’s LB rankings only drive that reality home.

Story originally appeared on Niners Wire