The San Francisco 49ers did a very respectable job during the 2017 NFL Draft. Even more so when you consider that they have a first-time general manager (with little-to-no front office experience) and a first-time head coach in Lynch and Shanahan. The team did the smart thing and filled their front office with talented and experienced personnel such as Adam Peters and Martin Mayhew. Their presence surely lifted some of the weight and responsibility off of the rookies’ shoulders. And hey, even the infamous Paraag Marathe helped out quite a bit during the draft. By all accounts, Marathe was the point-man when it came to all the trades the 49ers pulled off last weekend. Everyone on Lynch’s team had a role and did exactly what they were supposed to do. Most importantly, the 49ers front office seems to be working in perfect harmony for the first time in years.
As I have written before, the 49ers were able to address several areas of need during the draft. They selected a handful of day one contributors who will, if all goes well, be a part of the core of this team for years to come. One of the most important roster holes they needed to address was the weak side linebacker (WILL) spot. Finding a good partner for NaVorro Bowman was critical. Since Patrick Willis retired in 2015, things haven’t been the same for the 49ers defense and for their linebacker corps. We’ve seen Michael Wilhoite, Gerald Hodges, Ray-Ray Armstrong, and even Nick Bellore try (unsuccessfully) to fill those shoes. However in reality, who could blame them? Those are huge shoes to fill!
Enter Reuben Foster. Foster was widely regarded as a top-five talent in this draft. Him dropping into the late first can be attributed to a combination of injuries and some character concerns. The 49ers felt comfortable with his medical report and after meeting/talking with him several times, they were completely sold on the quality of his character. After trading back up into the first round, the 49ers selected the standout LB from the University of Alabama with the 31st overall pick. Foster is a Dick Butkus award winner and the key player in Alabama’s dominant defense from 2014 through 2016. He has all the physical and mental traits required to play linebacker at a consistent All-Pro level. If his recently repaired shoulder is fully healed, Foster will be the starting WILL next to Bowman when the 49ers open up at home against the Panthers on September 10th.
TUSCALOOSA, AL – OCTOBER 24: Reuben Foster #10 of the Alabama Crimson Tide tackles Von Pearson #9 of the Tennessee Volunteers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 24, 2015 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Here are some of the things that make Foster a truly special talent, and some of the things he can work on a bit.
Relentless sideline-to-sideline linebacker. Will effortlessly chase down plays at any level, from any angle.
Vicious hitting style. Unafraid to ruthlessly attack receivers, backs, as well as offensive linemen.
Can take on larger blockers and has the moves/strength to disengage from blocks.
Excellent coverage skills. Has the speed to run with and cover running backs, tight ends, and even some receivers.
Possesses the quickness and hands to rush the passer on the inside or the outside.
Outstanding football character. Unquestioned leader of the Alabama defense. Will rally his teammates around him. Expect him to have a positive impact in the locker room from day one.
Because of his aggressive style, he will sometimes launch himself at the ball carrier, causing him to miss tackles (16 missed tackles in 2016).
Could stand to polish the mental aspect of his game. Needs to work on being able to diagnose plays more consistently. He is overly reliant on his physical gifts.
Not sure if this is a weakness, more of a concern. Again, with his vicious hitting style, come injury-related problems. He had stinger issues early in his college career and tore his rotator cuff last season, for which he needed surgery. He will need to tweak his style a bit, especially now that he is taking on bigger/stronger/faster NFL players.
At the end of the day, Foster is a can’t-miss talent. He comes in to a great situation as he has the perfect role model to learn from in NaVorro Bowman. He should immediately attach himself to Bow at the hip, and absorb all the knowledge he can from the savvy veteran. Additionally, the 49ers brass will surely have an excellent support system in place for him. This will help alleviate some of the character concerns that arose throughout the draft process. More importantly, as long as he has a clean bill of health, Foster can definitely make an instant impact on this team. If he plays 16 games, I don’t think it is a stretch to assume that he will be in the running for defensive rookie of the year. I think the 49ers finally have found the guy who can one day live up to succeeding Patrick Willis. Unfortunately as we all know, only time will tell how Foster’s career will play out. I know the fans aren’t the only ones banking on his success.