Can you smell that? Smells like FOOTBALL! The 2017 NFL Draft is over and most media pundits deemed the San Francisco 49ers draft to be a successful one. John Lynch and Co. aggressively moved back into the first round to take a free falling talent, Reuben Foster. He is a 5-star talent at linebacker who ended his college career as the 2016 Dick Butkus award winner for the nation’s best linebacker.
His career stats at Alabama included 211 total tackles, of which 120 were solo tackles. He’s a tackling machine. Just in watching film it’s rare to see him not deliver the hit. You can spend hours on YouTube watching hard hitting highlights on this kid. On the other hand, he has some question marks surrounding his health (shoulders), and his character given his dismissal from the NFL Combine. On top of that, he failed a drug test at the Combine after having a diluted sample. If Lynch, and Robert Saleh can wrangle this bucking bronco he will turn out to be a significant impact player — or he could be the next Aldon Smith, a talent wasted.
Foster stands 6’1, 228lbs, which to be seems a bit small for the Mike LB position. While he did play as the middle of the field general in college, the NFL is another level. Just in comparison, Jarquiski Tartt is 6’1, 220lbs, Kam Chancellor is 6’3, 232lbs. Foster could probably take advantage of NFL weight training to get him up closer to 240 which would make him an excellent candidate for the Will LB position. Bobby Wagner in Seattle plays Will and he’s listed at 6’0, 240. I could also see Foster being our Mike in Nickel and Dime formations to give Navarro Bowman a rest. Bowman has become somewhat of a coverage liability given his lower leg issues, and Foster rates high when it comes to coverage. Foster has the measurables to be successful in this league. I could also see Saleh using multiple formations including Eric Reid, Tartt, and Foster, all three of which can be that in the box defensive back that can cover, but still come up and make a hit on running plays. Let’s get to the film.
Foster while undersized often plays above his height and weight. He is able to stack and shed, as the term goes, pretty well. He also does a good job, given his agility of avoiding blockers all together and then knifing in for the tackle. There are times where him avoiding the blockers instead of stacking and shedding causes him to take himself out of the gap/running lane but it’s rare he’s not involved in the tackle in some way.
The next few clips show Foster’s ability to stack and shed.
The next few clips show Foster’s ability to avoid blockers and make the hit. He always plays downhill.
Foster quickly diagnosis plays, and when he locks in on his target they go down, hard. The next few clips show Foster shooting gaps, flowing down the line of scrimmage, and of course dropping the BOOM!
The next tool in any successful linebacker’s kit in the ability to cover. We take a look at some plays where Foster shows his ability to track crossing routes. One ends in the pick six.
Foster’s aggression at times causes him to peek in the backfield instead of sticking with his coverage assignment. While the throw doesn’t come his way, I could see an NFL-caliber QB beating him on this seam for a TD.
As Foster finds his way in the league, he will more than likely start out on special teams. Foster is a missile on the field. The next few clips show him in kickoff coverage. The last clip even has him at a complete stand still making the tackle. It looks like the return man hit a brick wall.
Our final few clips we look at the downside to Foster’s current height and weight. While it doesn't happen often, just to be as objective as possible, I wanted to drop a few of these clips. You can see these offensive lineman are massive he looks tiny compared to them, and they only get bigger in the pros.
To summarize, Foster’s impact, if healthy, could be huge this season. He is almost a lock as a special teams asset, and like I said above I could see him working himself in on passing downs. Once he gets some more size on him and continues to build on his technique as a linebacker I could see him in competition for a starting role. Currently he sits behind Ray-Ray Armstrong and Malcolm Smith who are penciled in at the Will position. I could eventually see him sliding into the Mike position given his ability to track the ball and attack the line of scrimmage. Hopefully Lynch and Co can get him surrounded with a good support system to turn some of those off the field situations into distant memories. I’m excited to see Foster perform in the Red and Gold. Go Niners!