The San Francisco 49ers are hoping they got a steal in Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster. He slipped to No. 31 due to his shoulder injury and issues at the 2017 NFL Combine. The 49ers moved up from No. 34 to grab a guy they ranked No. 3 on their big board.
John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have both said the 49ers doctors think Foster is making excellent progress, and will be a full go at training camp. If that is the case, a lot of writers think he could prove to be the 49ers best rookie in 2017. ESPN did a prediction of the biggest impact rookie in 2017, and listed Foster. Pro Football Focus listed out the top offensive and defensive rookie of the year candidates, and listed Foster second behind Malik Hooker. Finally, NFL.com analysts voted on the top defensive rookie of the year candidates, and Foster tied for fifth (Solomon Thomas got at least one vote).
The 49ers decisions at linebacker are going to be interesting to track. Prior to the draft, the thought was that Ahmad Brooks would play the SAM role, NaVorro Bowman would be the middle linebacker, and Malcolm Smith would play the WILL role. Some people have suggested Bowman move to SAM, but that’s what we’ve had thus far.
Foster is expected to play in the WILL, and it has me curious how exactly the 49ers are going to work him in along with Smith. If Foster is not in fact ready by Week 1, that issue is resolved for the short term. But if the doctors have it right and Foster can play right away, what kind of rotation do you see? Foster makes a lot of sense as the second linebacker in the nickel package, but what about in the base 4-3? The 49ers will most likely spend more time in their sub-packages, but they will play plenty in the base.
Here’s what each media source had to say about Foster as the biggest impact player in 2017:
ESPN: Operating under the assumption that his shoulder holds up for the full season, Foster will start from the get-go and should instantly improve the league's worst run defense. Foster will probably begin at weakside linebacker next to NaVorro Bowman in the middle, but he'll eventually become the middle linebacker and center of the defense (though maybe not this year). Foster's ability to stay on the field for all three downs gives him a slight edge over fellow first-round pick Solomon Thomas.
PFF: I’m trusting the San Francisco 49ers medical staff here, but if Foster is healthy, he can make a monster impact in year one for that defense. Foster has no holes in his game, and flows to the football like Luke Kuechly does, and he could rack up a monster number of tackles, defensive stops, pressures and plays in the backfield if he stays out there for a whole season. Foster could be the perfect marriage of highlight-reel play, box-score stats and PFF play-by-play grading.
NFL.com: There remains some uncertainty about Foster's recovery from shoulder surgery, so consider his DROY hopes dependent on a second procedure not being necessary. However, assuming his recovery goes as well as the 49ers hope, he'll bring a rare level of athleticism to the linebacking corps. He's also effective in pass coverage, so he should make an every-down impact on a defense that was the NFL's worst last year (406.4 ypg).