It’s impossible not to be impressed by Fred Warner. After the 2019 season, I wrote about how Warner was the best coverage linebacker in the NFL. Some 49ers fans felt crowning Warner was premature, but I’m not a believer in waiting to give someone that deserves their flowers.
Since then, Warner has evolved into the most complete linebacker in the NFL. The former defensive back in Warner shines through his coverage skills. But Warner makes his mark as a blizter while taking advantage of a stout defensive line that enables him to make tackles in the backfield as a run defender.
I posed a question to Kyle Shanahan asking when the 49ers knew they were dealing with such a unique talent:
His rookie year, we knew we had something special with just how he came in and was able to play so much for us and the pressure we put on him calling the defense and how he could handle it as a rookie like he was a 10-year vet.
And then the second year is really when he took off, and you could see how special he was when he led us to the 8-0 start and the number one defense in the league.”
The team’s success, the addition of Kwon Alexander, and the leadership of then linebackers coach DeMeco Ryans all played an integral part in Warner’s development.
My second question to Shanahan was which linebacker throughout his coaching career had as much of an impact as Warner:
“And there’s some linebackers like that that you go against in your career that just they’re so good in zone coverages over the middle you always had [former Carolina Panthers LB] Luke Kuechly and [former Dallas Cowboys LB] Sean Lee who were so good at it.
You always had [Los Angeles Rams LB] Bobby Wagner and [former Seattle Seahawks LB] K.J. Wright, who were as good as anyone at it. And then you have Fred right there and [LB] Dre [Greenlaw] and [LB] Azeez [Al-Shaair] are coming right along too, but it always started with Fred and he covers a lot of ground over the middle and I know those are usually the guys that the quarterbacks notice the most.”
Warner all but sealed the Cowboys’ game by running with CeeDee Lamb 40 yards down the middle of the field on a third-down situation in a divisional playoff game and preventing a reception.
Warner affected throws he wasn’t involved in — one of which led to an interception finished the game with nine tackles, four run stops, and picked off a pass himself. I told Kyle that there’s no player more valuable to a defense in the NFL than Warner, to which he said, “Yeah, Fred is as good of a player as there is in this league.”