What kind of linebacker are the 49ers getting in Kwon Alexander?
On the plus side, Alexander is athletic, young and seemingly suited to the Niners’ defensive scheme. The former fourth-round pick out of LSU is just 24 but already has four seasons in the NFL.
By agreeing to a huge free-agent deal with San Francisco – a four-year contract to be worth as much as $54 million, with $27 million guaranteed – Alexander will join a linebacking group that includes Fred Warner, who excelled in 2018 as a rookie.
It should be an immediate upgrade for a 49ers defense that sorely lacked quality linebacking depth in 2018.
Noted Kevin Patra or NFL.com, after the agreement was reported: “Alexander is a very good run defender with coverage range. The athletic linebacker should fit perfectly in the Niners’ system for defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. The rangy linebacker will slide in next to rookie study Fred Warner and immediately upgrade a 49ers defense that was searching for a replacement after the Reuben Foster experiment failed spectacularly.”
Yet Alexander is coming back from a season-ending injury in October with the Tampa Bay Bucs in which he suffered torn knee ligaments. Still, he’s expected to be fully ready for training camp. Alexander has shown he’s an active defender, with three seasons of more than 93 tackles and one huge year, in 2016 – the only season in which he’s played all 16 games – when he led the NFL with 108 solo tackles (and had 145 overall), with three sacks, an interception and seven passes defensed.
Yet the analytic website Pro Football Focus says Alexander’s performance grades over his first four seasons haven’t lived up to his billing as a wide-ranging, mobile defender and pass rusher. His overall grades have been less than stellar, notes PFF, and he’s not a sure tackler. In his four seasons, Alexander has 78 missed tackles, the second highest total in the NFL.
“While the highlight plays do flash on tape for Alexander, they are joined by a healthy dose of negative plays,” noted PFF.
But, PFF also reports he’s strong in pass coverage and as a pass rusher, with one of the NFL’s best rates of pressure among linebackers over the past two seasons.
Pro Football Focus’ Ben Linsey says Alexander’s potential is high, but the 49ers may be overpaying.
“(The 49ers) hope that his athleticism and potential come to fruition in the form of consistent, high-level performance for the entirety of a season,” he wrote. “Given what we’ve seen from him to this point in his career, that’s a risky $54 million proposition.”