Pro Football Focus is gearing up for the NFL season by ranking the best players at every position. PFF’s Sam Monson was tasked with ranking the league’s linebackers and placed San Francisco 49ers linebacker Fred Warner, at the top of his list, giving him the number one spot.
Warner had a transformative effect on the 49ers defense when he became the starter. And even though he hasn’t quite been able to maintain an elite level of play every season, his impact on the field is obvious.
Warner was one of four players in Monson’s top tier, titled “The Elite Few.” Colts linebacker Darius Leonard, Saints linebacker Demario Davis, and Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks rounded out the group.
Warner remains one of the best acquisitions of Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch’s tenures with the 49ers. The Niners selected Warner in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, and he has been a starter in every one of the team’s games since. Warner’s unique combination of physicality and athleticism makes him one of the few linebackers in the league capable of being a difference-maker in coverage and against the run. He recorded 137 tackles, seven for loss, four defended passes, three fumble recoveries, and three quarterback hits last season.
The 49ers had another linebacker crack Monson’s ranking of the top 32 players at the position. Monson ranked Azeez Al-Shaair the 20th best linebacker in the league, including him in Tier 6, titled “Young Ascending,” which spanned the 13th to 21st spots on his rankings.
Al-Shaair stepped in for an injured Dre Greenlaw last season and took the starting job from him. Al-Shaair has all the tools to one day rank with Warner as one of the best linebackers in the NFL, even playing better than Warner at times last season. Still, Al-Shaair needs to improve his consistency, particularly as a tackler and in coverage. Al-Shaair started 13 games for the 49ers last season, recording 102 tackles, nine tackles for loss, five passes defended, two fumbles recovered, and two quarterback hits.