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How Fred Warner is developing into one of the NFL’s best linebackers and helped shut down Green Bay’s offense

Without LB Kwon Alexander, Fred Warner has had to taken a more prominent role — and has responded by playing the best football of his career.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

On the opening drive for the Green Bay Packers, linebacker Fred Warner came on the delayed blitz, punched the ball out from quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ hands and defensive end Nick Bosa would recover the ball on the Packers’ five-yard line.

It would set the tone for the Sunday Night Football matchup between the Packers and 49ers. After the game, Warner added that he wasn’t even sure if he knocked the ball out on the play — “I looked up and saw Nick [Bosa] on the graphic and was like, ‘did I even get it?’”

San Francisco’s former third-round pick gave a preview of the defensive domination the opening drive of the game, and they wouldn’t let up. Warner finished the game, filling out the box score:

  • 11 tackles (led all 49ers’ defenders)
  • one sack
  • one TFL (tackle for loss)
  • one quarterback hit
  • one forced fumble

San Francisco lost their leader in the middle of the field, linebacker Kwon Alexander, a few weeks ago. Still, Warner has stepped into that role seamlessly, not only leading the 49ers in all the important stats but also being the vocal leader on the field.

He was ferocious on Sunday night, running sideline-to-sideline and was a key reason for limiting Packers’ running back Aaron Jones to 38 yards rushing and 2.8 yards per attempt. Jones came into the game having his way with opposing defenses and rushing for 11 touchdowns, but San Francisco didn’t allow any scores to Jones.

When I asked Warner after the game about the 49ers’ defensive game plan, he admitted: “He [Aaron Jones] was a big part of what we wanted to focus on, but when 12’s on the field, that’s going to be a pretty big focus for us.”

Warner was the 49ers’ leading tackler last season and was putting himself in the conversation for one of the better linebackers in the league as a rookie. Still, in his sophomore season, he’s really evolving into a Pro-Bowl caliber player that the 49ers will be able to count on week in and week out. For a team that’s had Hall-of-Fame type linebackers suit up for them, Warner seems to be the next one in line after another stellar outing.

49ers’ head coach Kyle Shanahan lauded Warner’s play on Sunday, “he’s been unbelievable all year..and what he does from just getting us in the right calls standpoint, he’s unbelievable.”

Through 11 weeks of the season, Fred Warner’s the only player with at least 80 tackles, three sacks, three forced fumbles, and four passes defended. His versatility — both in run defense and pass defense — has been stellar this season, and it showed up tonight when he filled the box score on multiple levels.

Warner’s already developing into one of the best linebackers in the NFL — in just his second season. He’s also due to get his running mate Kwon Alexander back next season, make the 49ers’ linebacking duo a formidable tandem for years to come.