The San Francisco 49ers had a decision to make when the 2018 NFL Draft arrived. Linebacker Reuben Foster was arrested in January for marijuana possession, and then was arrested in February for suspicion of domestic violence, making criminal threats, and illegal weapons possession. Neither of the cases had been cleared up at that point, but the day before the draft, Foster’s accuser recanted her statement. In May she would formally recant it under oath.
The 49ers likely had a good idea of how things would play out with that charge, but with nothing set in stone, they had to figure out what they wanted to do at the linebacker position in the draft. The team had signed Brock Coyle to a three-year contract extension, and then signed Korey Toomer to a one-year deal. Malcolm Smith was returning from his torn pec, but without any other notable additions, linebacker seemed like a position of need.
The 49ers had acknowledged the need, and on day two of the draft they made their move. The team selected BYU linebacker Fred Warner with the 70th overall pick. Warner joined the team after four seasons at BYU, including three as a starting linebacker.
During his time at BYU, Warner played what the Cougars called the “Flash” position. Hybrid roles are in vogue in the NFL, particularly on defense, and the flash role would fit into the many definitions of hybrid defenders. The position was a combination linebacker/safety role, and it suited Warner’s size and speed. In some ways, it is like the money-backer role Deone Bucannon has played for the Arizona Cardinals. It’s someone who can thump like a linebacker, but has the skills to be a dependable coverage player.
The 49ers play a base 4-3 front, but they’ll spend more time in their nickel and dime sub-packages. Warner is a player who can be effective in those sub-packages, and could make his bones in place of an extra safety. Of course, Reuben Foster’s suspension could also speed up his opportunities even in the team’s basic look.
Age: 21 (turns 22 on November 19th)
Weight: 236 lbs.
Signed his rookie contract on June 13th. He received a $1,010,188 signing bonus, and will earn the rookie minimum salary of $480,000. If he were released or traded during training camp, the team would carry $252,547 in dead money this season, and clear $480,000 in cap space. That’s not going to happen.
What to expect in 2018
Reuben Foster is suspended for two games. Foster also missed most of the offseason workout program, and that coupled with Brock Coyle’s rehab from a torn labrum meant more time up the depth chart for Warner. Korey Toomer is in the mix as well, but Warner got extensive work with Malcolm Smith during the offseason workout program.
For the first two weeks while Foster is suspended, Smith is likely to start at the MIKE position. Warner would seem to be the favorite to start at weak side linebacker, but Coyle and Toomer are still worth watching when training camp gets underway. After Foster returns, it’s anybody’s guess how this shakes out. Warner is the guy the 49ers want to see long term next to Foster, but for 2018? I think we see him more in sub-packages, while Smith remains the starter in the base 4-3 look.
Odds of making the team
He’s a lock to make the roster. The bigger question is, barring injuries shaking up the depth chart, at what point does Warner eventually move into the primary starting role next to Foster? Or will the extensive time spent in nickel and dime looks result in him ending the season with more snaps than Smith?
Who will play more defensive snaps in 2018?
This poll is closed