The San Francisco 49ers have questions at the linebacker position, and their attempts to add depth saw them spend a third-round pick on BYU linebacker Fred Warner. The pick excited me due to Warner’s versatility. He’s built like a linebacker, but operates well in space with the speed of a safety.
Todd McShay appears to agree to a certain extent. He listed out the pick with the best draft value for each team, and Warner was his choice for the 49ers. He had this to say about the Warner pick
This pick is all about insurance for Reuben Foster’s off-field situation. Warner is athletic enough to develop above-average man cover skills and has the active hands and change-of-direction skills to threaten off the edge as a pass-rusher. He does need to improve his tackling, but I think he has the potential to be an NFL starter. A smart pick in a sudden need area for San Francisco.
Since the close of the draft, 49ers GM John Lynch has said the 49ers would have drafted Warner even if Foster was not dealing with legal issues. I wouldn’t expect anything less in his post-draft comments, but with Warner it makes sense. Foster and Malcolm Smith could be a solid duo, but Smith is likely not a long-term option for the 49ers. He is signed through 2021, but the last two years of his deal are option years. He’s a bridge at the position as the defense learns what Robert Saleh wants to do.
Even if Foster is available Week 1, there will be plenty of room for Warner in this defense. Whether or not Foster is available, Warner could quickly earn a role in the 49ers sub-packages. His work in pass coverage is a strength, and he brings a strong size/speed combination for rushing the passer. He might not claim a starting job out of the gates, but he is position to quickly emerge as an impact player.