The 2017 NFL season comes to a close in just two weeks, after which we wait until Super Bowl weekend to find out who receives end of year honors. The 49ers won’t have many contenders for year-end awards, but linebacker Reuben Foster could still work his way into contention for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Foster was injured in the first quarter of the team’s Week 1 game, and was inactive six of the next seven games. However, since returning, we’ve seen him leading NFL rookies in tackles, and claiming November Defensive Rookie of the Month. He is putting together a solid December, with 24 tackles in three games, and excellent coverage work mixed in.
Pro Football Focus has been updating their rookie rankings each week, and since returning to action in November, he has worked his way up the board. Last week, he climbed to No. 4, and this week he has settled in at No. 5. Ahead of him are Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White, New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, and then running backs Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt. In the past two weeks, Foster has climbed ahead of Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Desmond King.
PFF ranks him fifth among all linebackers in overall grade, and has posted a grade better than 80.0 in all but two games. That is a high grade based on their system, so in their view, he is consistently producing. I am a bigger fan of PFF’s signature stats, which used information gleaned from the game-charting project, and strikes me as a little more objective.
Foster ranks fourth among all NFL linebackers with a 12.5 run stop percentage. He has allowed 26.9 percent of the targets into his coverage to result in either a first down or touchdown, which is sixth best among 63 linebackers who have spent at least 200 snaps in coverage. This combination of work shows a linebacker who is quickly proving to be a three-down linebacker who can do pretty much whatever you want.
If Foster had played all season, I could see him being the clear favorite to win Defensive Rookie of the Year. That being said, he’s had a great year, and he will end up on all-rookie defensive teams at the very least. The weekly bumps and bruises are concerning, but all things considered, this has been a heck of a year for Foster. And that move into the back end of the first round is looking really good.