Last Week: 3-0
All Time Results: 116-107-2, +16.6 Units
Dre Greenlaw Under 5.5 Tackles & Assists (+125) – .25 Units
What a rookie class for the Niners! Nick Bosa just won defensive rookie of the year, Debo Samuel is Bill Simmons’s new favorite player, and how about Dre Greenlaw! The 5th round pick saw his production and play-time skyrocket in the second half of the season, culminating when he made the marquee defensive play of the 49ers season, stoning Seahawks TE Jacob Hollisterat at the goal line to preserve a win and the #1 seed in Week 17.
I think that much-published tackle alone has inflated this line 30 cents. Breaking down the rest of Greenlaw’s season I think this number should be a half tackle lower.
Three Distinct Seasons
Greenlaw played less than 50% of the snaps in 7 of the 49ers’ first 8 games. Not unusual for a late-round draft pick. Everything changed for the Arkansas product when key 49ers Free Agent acquisition, Kwon Alexander went down with a torn pectoral muscle on Halloween night in Arizona.
After Alexander went down, Greenlaw recorded 9.4 tackles and assists in his last 8 regular-season games, playing 97% of the defensive snaps. Compare that to just 2.4 tackles and assists in all other games this season, playing 45% of the snaps.
Greenlaw played well enough to keep his spot as a starter when Alexander made a miraculous recovery for the playoffs. Since Alexander came back for the playoffs, Greenlaw is averaging 5 tackles per game, playing 80% of the defensive snaps. Alexander has played about half the stats, which I expect to increase with two more weeks of training to get him closer to true football shape.
Tackles Not a Great Measure of Performance
The fact that Greenlaw tackles went up by 400% in Alexander’s absence doesn’t necessarily he played 400% better. Here’s where numbers can be deceiving. A tackle isn’t a good stat for a team.
Michael Lombardi always talks about a great metric for offensive success is “Carries” + “Completions”. If that’s true, then it would stand to reason that tackles are one of the most damning defensive statistics, on a team level. After all, 95% of completions and carries end in a tackle. A defense that leads the league in tackles is guaranteed to be a bad defense. They can’t get off the field.
If an offense is humming they are going to have a lot of first downs, and a lot of completions and carries. Therefore, a defense that is struggling – like the 49ers from Weeks 9 through 17 – will have a lot of tackles.
On an individual level tackles, too, must in someway be negatively correlated to success. The job of an individual on a team is still to produce the best net result for the team.
Greenlaw wasn’t the reason the 49ers defense sputtered in the second half of the year, but he also wasn’t the solution. Since Alexander returned for the playoffs, Greenlaw’s snaps have decreased by about 20%. He’s a fine player and great contributor, but especially in the biggest game, I think the market is overestimating his role in this game. A veteran player like Alexander will be a more trusted hand in the big game.
49ers Defense Back to 100%
Dre Greenlaw didn’t get worse the past two weeks against the Vikings and Packers. He just had fewer opportunities because the defense he plays in has been more effective with three starters back in action.
While the Chiefs have a much better offense than either the Packers or Vikings, they also have a more explosive offense with fewer plays, bigger plays, and shorter drives. I love Greenlaw to record 5 or fewer tackles.
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