The San Francisco 49ers have plenty of decisions to make next week, and the status of their linebacker corps could weigh heavily. Reuben Foster has been excused from team activities while he deals with his felony domestic violence charge. The team hoped to build their linebacker corps around him, but his status with the team is questionable at best.
There has been a lot of talk about what the 49ers might do at linebacker next week. Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmunds are regularly mentioned as options at No. 9. But with needs at edge rusher, guard, and in the secondary, the 49ers could go in a lot of directions in the first round.
How might the current linebacker depth chart impact that decision? Aside from just Foster, strong side linebacker Eli Harold is a free agent after this coming season and weak side linebacker Malcolm Smith is returning from a torn pectoral muscle that ended his 2017 season before it began. Dekoda Watson serves as Harold’s backup, while Korey Toomer, Brock Coyle, Elijah Lee, Donavin Newsom, and others compete for opportunities behind Foster and Smith.
We’ll have plenty of time to learn more about the depth chart, but for now, I’m curious about Toomer. He has been primarily a reserve, although injuries helped him get some starting nods the past two seasons. But even in mostly reserve duty, he did some solid work. According to Pro Football Focus (via David Lombardi), in 2016, he posted the best run stop rate among inside linebackers with at least 150 snaps (he had 177 snaps). His run stop rate dropped in 2017, but he still ranked in the top ten. In 2017, he had 95 pass coverage opportunities, and he ranked 11th in yards per cover snap among inside linebackers with at least 50 snaps in pass coverage.
These are small sample sizes, but they show some level of success. He originally entered the NFL as a fifth round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in the 2012 NFL Draft. He was there during part of Robert Saleh’s stint. Toomer eventually joined the Los Angeles Chargers in 2017. The Chargers’ defensive coordinator this past year was Gus Bradley, who employs a similar defensive philosophy as that of the 49ers.
All of this is to say, could the 49ers potentially look at Toomer as someone who maybe could do a little more than serve as a backup? They very well could see Brock Coyle as the primary backup option, but given Toomer’s recent history, maybe the 49ers see something in him.
Of course, when the 49ers draft Roquan Smith or Tremaine Edmunds next week, feel free to laugh at me. Who the 49ers draft will tell us plenty, but the same holds true for who they don’t draft. Whether they go linebacker in the first couple rounds, or wait until late on day three, we’ll get a bit of a handle on how they’re approaching this position.