When the 49ers chose to select a linebacker with their third-round pick in last year’s draft, many fans initially wondered what the need was. San Francisco’s brain trust selected linebacker Reuben Foster the year before and handed out a large contract to former Raider Malcolm Smith.
Yet 10 games into this season, the most consistent defensive player on the 49ers behind corner Richard Sherman is linebacker Fred Warner. Leading the 49ers in combined tackles (77), Warner is ranked top-10 in the entire league in this category.
This past week, I thought Warner had a fantastic game — his best of the season — just due to his versatility on the field. The rookie MIKE linebacker finished with four tackles and two passes defensed, but every play he made came at a critical time.
With Foster sitting out with an injury, the load became heavier on Warner’s shoulders, especially given the talent in the Giants’ backfield with running back Saquon Barkley. Warner and the 49ers’ defense answered the call, limiting him to only 67 yards on 20 carries. Here are some of Warner’s best plays from Monday Night Football vs. the Giants.
Early in the second quarter, Warner is in zone coverage, responsible for the middle of the field. Giants’ wideout Odell Beckham Jr. is lined up in the slot and comes across the middle, as quarterback Eli Manning attempts a quick throw to get his superstar the ball. Warner reads the play beautifully, deflecting the pass away for an incompletion. The best part about this play comes after, as the rookie doesn’t back away from one of the best receivers in the NFL, letting him know what had just happened.
Later in the same quarter, the Giants have a third-and-goal on the 49ers’ two-yard line, with most expecting a running play to be called. By the time Manning turns and hands the ball off, Warner’s immediately there to knock Barkley back for no gain on the play.
The 49ers’ third-round pick reads the play perfectly, plugs the hole and makes a solo tackle on Barkley to force the Giants’ into a field-goal attempt.
Now in the final quarter, Warner shows off his tackling skills in space, as he immediately stops Giants’ tight end Rhett Ellison for only a six-yard gain, not giving up any yards after the catch. Warner’s best ability is to consistently make tackles, no matter if it’s a slippery wideout or a large tight end, he stops them dead in their tracks.
Once again, dropping back into zone coverage, Warner reads the pass from Manning, jumps on the route and is able to bat the pass away from Beckham Jr. It’s hard to cover the speedy Beckham Jr. in space, but Warner’s able to force two huge incompletions.
Once again, Warner continues to make tackles in space, this time it’s against the Giants’ other tight end, Evan Engram. Outside of his run defense, Warner’s excellent at tackling in space.
Warner should only continue to get better with more experience and with the return of a healthy Foster, the 49ers should have one of the two-best young linebacking duos, alongside the Cowboys.