49ers’ fill-in linebacker winning praise

San Francisco 49ers linebacker Elijah Lee (47) returns a fumble, which was overturned, during the second half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

SANTA CLARA — Player A and Player B both are linebackers.

Player A was a first-round pick in 2017. Player B was a seventh-round pick the same year.

Player A started six games for the 49ers in 2018 before they cut him. Player B has started four games as Player A’s replacement.

Player A averaged 4.8 tackles per game this season. Player B has averaged 9.25 tackles per game during his four starts.

When Player A was the starter this season, the 49ers defense gave up 30.8 points per game and their record was 0-6.

Since Player B has been the starter, the defense has given up 19.5 points per game and the 49ers’ record is 3-1.

When the 49ers drafted Player A, general manager John Lynch called him a “game-changing player.

When asked to describe Player B last week, 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh called him, “steady.”

Player A is Reuben Foster. Player B is Elijah Lee. This is about Player B.

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This article has 83 Comments

  1. Warner and Lee have solidified the middle.
    .
    Glad Foster is gone, Malcolm Smith is not playing, and Lee is getting his chance to shine.

  2. Nice article Grant. Lee is a solid player and I think he has much more upside than Coyle. Also, Lee was picked by Zimmer who definitely has a great eye for defensive talent.

    Linebacker is definitely not a pressing need going into the draft. That being said, the front office should not make the same mistake as last time and “Anoint guys as starters without competition”.

  3. Nice read……always thought he was light and not consistent…….i was sold when he made that stand-up tackle at the line of scrimmage ………he definately has gotten better……🖒

    1. Rollotomasi

      Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater…Arik Armstead is quietly having a very good year…Now, as for Garnett, and Thomas….I’ll agree with you…My pick for this year is Ahkeem Butler WR from Iowa State U….6’6″ 225

  4. This Rams game is going to be tough. They really want a first round bye so Gurley can rest more, and let his knee get better.
    .
    Donald is going to be a beast. He is going to watch what Akiem Hicks did to the Niners, and also make a big push up the middle. He will see that Mullens will be stationary in the pocket, so he will try to knock down passes, too. Fangio told Hicks to rush to a spot in front of Mullens, and get his hand up in the air, so he blocked 4 passes. KS did not make any adjustments, but should have. Maybe KS should have countered that strategy by moving the pocket. Of course, if Mullens does roll out, I hope KS can prepare him for every contingency, especially on 4th down.
    .
    I was impressed with the play call when Trubisky rolled right, drew several defenders, then threw a screen pass left with a convoy of blockers, for a long gain. Hope KS can devise a similar play.

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  5. Staley after winning the Gary Niver award that goes to the player who’s most helpful and professional with the media:
    “It took 12 years,. You guys finally like me.”

  6. There’s a lot of love by 49ers fans for Fred Warner. Lee’s level of play when given the opportunity to play has been higher than that of the 3rd round pick.

    1. Somehow they find decent players in the late rounds. I know Lee wasn’t a 49er pick but he has been very good when played and he was a late round pick for the Vikes.

      1. I actually had Lee in my 49ers mock draft that I posted here in 2017. The team could have saved some time, if they would only read this blog :>D

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    2. There’s a lot of love by 49ers fans for Fred Warner.

      it’s not a zero-sum game of love…
      Lee is in his second year. Fred’s a rookie and also has more things on his mind carrying the green dot. I like Lee but Fred’s ceiling is higher, IMO.

    3. @Jack

      Love how you pull this crap out of your… hat. State the unprovable as fact. 49er fans do recognize Warner’s very good play over his rookie year. He’s leading the team in tackles. He has been durable, reliable, and played well – especially for a rookie. Elijah Lee has been a good fill in but to say he’s playing at a higher level than Warner is ignorant. They play different positions. Lee may have more tackles in the games he’s played because he’s had more opportunities. Teams could be going directly at Lee in the run game because they think he’s a liability until he proves them wrong. You don’t have to denigrate one guy to elevate the other. Warner has played well. Lee has played well. Give both guys their due.

      1. Didn’t pull anything out of my … hat.

        Warner: 992 snaps, 110 Tackles, 3 TFL, 2 QB hits, 0 Forced Fumbles, 1 Fumble Recovery, 6 passes defensed.

        Lee: 405 snaps, 55 Tackles, 2 TFL, 1 QB hits, 1 Forced Fumble, 1 Fumble Recovery, 2 passes defensed.

        It’s easy to see that Lee has done a number of things at a higher rate than Warner and it is simple math to see what his numbers would be if he had played the same 992 snaps….138 Tackles, 5 TFL, 2 QB hits, 2 Forced Fumble, 2 Fumble Recoveries, 5 passes defensed.

        “You don’t have to denigrate one guy to elevate the other.”

        I didn’t denigrate Warner. He’s played good. When given a chance Lee has played better.

        Would have no problem with those two being the starting inside backers next season.

        1. This is such an intellectually dishonest reply it’s nauseating. Fred Warner’s name is not mentioned a single time in this entire article. You bring him up to say Lee is playing better as if all these 49er fans like Warner but they aren’t as smart as you so they can’t recognize Lee is the better player. How is that not tearing down one player to build up another? Then you extrapolate stats over a year to justify tearing down Warner. Well guess what genius, Warner plays the Mike and Lee plays Will. Warner has started at Mike all year and has played with multiple other linebackers. Warner’s play has been very good even with such inconsistency in his teammates. Did you ever think maybe Warner’s numbers would be even better if the players around him were better at their run fits? Did you ever think maybe Lee’s numbers wouldn’t be as good if he had the added responsibilities that come with the green dot? Why isn’t your point to say Warner and Lee have played well together? Instead you say Lee’s play has been better than the “3rd round pick” as if the 49ers either reached on Warner or they didn’t recognize Lee’s talent in their draft evaluations. There is no doubt you were denigrating Warner to elevate Lee. Its obvious.

          1. Nah hick, I mentioned Warner because he has been given a lot of praise for his play while some fans continue to think the 49ers should spend a high pick on a linebacker. Comparing their play was to show how good Lee has performed when given an opportunity.

            1. Lee is a back up and special teams ace. He is not a starter. So it would be wise for the 49ers to draft another ILB. I think Brock Coyle is more suited to the position than Lee as is Nzeocha.
              Lee has played well but he is not big enough as he gets pushed around a lot.

        2. You can’t simply make 992/405 and apply the ratio to the actual stats… many more things must be factored in… fatigue, mental stress, opponents, game situation… I agree the EL played very well, but I prefer thinking that we found a gem in the dirt and we may finally have two valid LB rather than rank the two based on statistical projections that make little sense…

  7. Grant, nice puff piece, seems to be a lot of that going around this week in the sports writer community.

    Would like your take on SF trying to sign Earl Thomas?

  8. So? Both guys are playing well. Warner has been doing it since week 1 and as a leader of the defense. Lee has only come on the last couple weeks.

    Point is you always have to down grade something. Crusty!

    1. Yes, they are both playing well. Didn’t state otherwise.

      Lee didn’t come on only in the last few weeks. He’s played well every time he’s been given a chance.

      This is something I said early in the season during a conversation with rocket i believe. Maybe #80 can look it up.

  9. Spong–What do you mean “puff piece”? He snipes at Lynch, trashes Reuben, and make a mild swipe at Saleh. Sounds like normal Grant to me. Although, later on he takes the word from Saleh and turns into a back-handed compliment, which, in itself is quite newsworthy, if you have been following ‘Inside the 49ers’ at all.

  10. Elijah Lee is serviceable. There are also plenty of plays where he is late reacting to the ball on runs, and thus is making tackles 5 yards downfield instead of at the line of scrimmage. He will need to improve his read and react ability.

    As for those thinking we do not need to add to our linebackers, feel free to name our backups and who replaces Malcolm Smith. There is definitely a need to add depth and a strong side backer (Lee is better at weakside backer).

    1. Clearly, Niners need a starting-quality LB to push Lee since Smith’s likely gone. Whether they get it via FA or draft is the question. Unlike some here, I think Devin White is a reach in the top 5 .

      1. I could see them going pretty hard after Jordan Hicks.

        If they miss out on him, Kwon Alexander and Denzel Perryman could be options.

    2. Nzeocha has played well and the Sam doesn’t play much anyway. He could be brought back for cheap, or you could call up Taumoepenu.

      Will be getting Coyle back, and he has shown the ability to play well at both Will or Mike.

      Bring in a low cost FA or use a mid-low round pick on a backer.

  11. Quincy Enunwa just got a 4 year, $36M contract. He’s a borderline starter. That’s the market for borderline starting WRs this offseason because there are so few quality WRs going to be available. At that rate they are almost better off holding onto Garcon and giving him competition for his spot through the draft. If the rookie then wins the job in TC look to trade Garcon either before the season starts or during the season after injuries.

      1. I disagree, I don’t think much of Bourne as more than a backup, but happy to let Bourne and Garcon compete with a rookie for that spot.

          1. He’s better than Garcon with a bum knee. We’ve only really seen a fully healthy Garcon for half of last season, and he was much better than Bourne is now. I say bring Garcon back for another year, see if he can stay healthy and have him compete with a rookie and Bourne for the spot.

            1. Bourne still can improve. Garcon is declining. He caught just 52 percent of his targets this season before injuring his knee. He struggles getting open and doesn’t produce in the red zone.

              1. He was coming off a neck injury and I don’t know if he was ever fully healthy this year. It sounded like he was a bit sluggish through camp. And in addition to his bum knee he injured his shoulder very early on, which with the previous neck injury was probably a limiting factor for him.

                As I said, I would give him another year to see if he can get healthy and if, when healthy, he’s still a capable starter. The team saves cents on the dollar for cutting him, and I wouldn’t want to go into the year with just Bourne competing with a rookie, so they would have to spend more to find a guy that likely is no better than Garcon anyway.

              2. Garcon is old and breaking down. I’d keep him too if teams could keep 90 players. But they can’t. The 49ers won’t go into the regular season with three flankers. If they draft a flanker, and they will, then they’ll have to choose between Garcon and Bourne, and that’s an easy decision.

              3. They can go into TC with three flankers. Let the rookie, Garcon and Bourne compete for the two spots.

              4. I agree. Then, I imagine they’ll try to trade Garcon during the preseason, find no takers and cut him.

              5. Garcon is done. Too old, injury prone and time to give his snaps to someone who can develop and contribute in the future.
                Would not be surprised if he retires.

          2. Scooter_McG

            On this one, I agree with Grant…I believe that Bourne is beginning to come into his own…I think that the step up to the NFL from NCAA has been more difficult for some than for others…Bourne has speed , size, and will block….’does need to catch better….

  12. Quite the bowl game–Purdue vs. Auburn. Last I checked the score was Auburn 63, Purdue 14, late 3rd quarter.

    Purdue is coached by Jeff Brohm, the guy Grant has a huge crush on.

  13. Rams ran the ball 41 times and passed only 24 times. CJ Anderson ran for 167 yards, last game. Of course, that was against a 3 win team.
    .
    Rams will try to do the same thing this game, so they risk little by having Goff hand off the ball.
    .
    Niners need to stack the box and stop the run. Niners should follow the game plan the Bears had against them. That game, the Rams passed 44 times and ran the ball 13 times, and scored 6 points, with 4 Goff picks. Hope KS can copy how Nagy attacked the Ram defense.

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  14. https://www.49erswebzone.com/articles/122424-transcript-shanahan-discusses-jimmy-garoppolos-senior-marquise-goodwin/

    On the Senior Bowl.

    “Yeah. You have mixed emotions about it always as a coach. But, it’s something that you never turn down. It’s an advantage for you. Any little thing helps. If you can find out more about one guy, whether it affects a seventh-round pick or a free agent you go for, it’s always worth it. If that opportunity happens, we’ll be there.”

  15. This is for those who think PFF grades are valid or used by teams….. “there are difficult physical responsibilities that PFF has no way of recognizing, he said.”

    “I’m not trying to bash anyone, but there is a lot that’s not known about scheme and assignments,” Shanahan said. “We’re given numbers where people who have no idea what O-line play is, judge people off numbers that they see. And, then, opinions are formulated on guys that are sometimes unfair.”

        1. PFF certainly provides some useful stats, but its net impact on the NFL has been negative. Agents use these grades during contract negotiations, as Shanahan mentioned.

    1. Hopefully his poor play this year is just due to the knee injury, and he will perform better next year.

      As far as PFF grades go, sure they are highly subjective but for the most part are still an ok guide as to how a person has performed. With Richburg, the grade matches the tape. Even if you disregard possible errors in grading due to not knowing assignments the players have, seeing Richburg getting pushed back at the point of attack has been the norm, especially in the red zone.

      1. Coming off major injury, getting hurt,playing hurt, playing at a demanding position in a new scheme, I think a little leeway is warranted.

  16. Giants let Richberg walk because he had defects. One is the tendency to not be able to anchor. Another was his susceptibility towards concussions.
    .
    The Giants moved on from Richberg, and the Niners can, too, especially if he has knee issues. Sure, he is a fine upstanding citizen, and probably has a family, but this is a hard league to survive in. I wonder if Person could take over, and put in Garnett at RG. Maybe try out that line up, since this game is the very definition of meaningless.

    1. George, after watching the O line struggle, I would hope that Garnett could come in and save the day. He is a good run blocker, and that area was deficient, since the run blocking led to only 47 yards last game.
      .
      Pipe dream? How did you guess? ;p

  17. ‘I am not sure how to take that’, Lee said, ‘But I will take that as a compliment.’
    .
    Sure, it was an honest, insightful statement. Yes, it was not effusive praise like KS gave Donald, but he is also a pro bowler, and Lee was 7th rounder who was poached off a practice squad.
    .
    I am just glad he is an upgrade from Malcolm Smith. Too bad Foster disappeared like a puff of smoke.

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