ESPN is back with more rankings, this time it’s to discuss linebackers. Fifty league executives from coaches to players to general managers were polled, and today’s question was where Fred Warner would be ranked. I feel confident and comfortable when I say Warner is arguably the best linebacker in the NFL. I’m happy to go play for play with anyone who is willing to argue against that statement.
Thanks to a late push, Warner landed at No. 10 in these rankings:
10. Fred Warner, San Francisco 49ers
Age: 25 | Highest ranking: 4 | Lowest ranking: Off the ballot
Warner made a late push over Jaylon Smith for the final spot, thanks to several general managers considering Warner a top-eight linebacker. He won the 10th spot in an isolated voting matchup with Smith.
Those who coached against the 49ers last year noticed him right away.
“I went into our game thinking Kwon Alexander was their No. 1 guy, but Fred Warner stood out the most,” an NFL coordinator said. “Three-down linebacker, physical, active, really smart, can play the over and under stuff like crazy. Impressive.”
The 49ers ask Warner to do a lot: Call the defense, anchor the run, chase pass-catchers on deep over routes on third down.
Warner responded with three sacks, three forced fumbles, 89 solo tackles and an interception for a 46-yard touchdown.
To be sure, Warner has one of the best defensive fronts to help him clean up. But a separate NFL coordinator said Warner belongs because he’s a “real factor in pass defense, real smart.
The first line is interesting from the coordinator as it tells you how hot of a start Alexander had to the season. Both coaches praised Warner for his smarts, and rightfully so. What makes Warner so impressive in coverage is that he doesn’t fall for the typical route combinations that most do. It’s like a chess game out there, and Warner is usually two steps ahead, waiting for you to sneak a pass by him. That didn’t work too well last year, and Warner only continued to improve as the season went on.
Warner’s success rate in coverage was 67%, which was the fourth-best in the NFL. That tells you that even if he did allow a reception, it wasn’t often that play resulted in a positive gain for the offense. Warner allowed 4.7 yards per pass, which was also good for fourth in the NFL. He wasn’t just limiting the big play, however. Nine passes defended, three sacks, and a pick-six is the cherry on the top.
The 49ers are known for having a dominant defensive line. That doesn’t mean they are dominant against the run, though. San Francisco was 11th in DVOA against the run, while the line was 13th in adjusted line yards. Both of those are above average, but you didn’t watch the 49ers last year and think, “man, you can’t move those guys inside.” I’m not buying the idea that Warner was covered up. In fact, I’d argue the opposite and say that’s a big reason why Warner missed a lot of tackles last year. Warner missed 17 tackles last year. That’s an area he has to clean up. Outside of those misses, it’s hard to find many faults in Warner’s game. He’s a great pass rusher already, and in coverage, we’re watching the best in the business.
There are not nine linebackers in the NFL that can do what Warner can.