When the 49ers traded back into the first round to select the former Crimson Tide linebacker, the faithful went absolutely insane! (in a good way of course) The 49ers filled a major hole in the middle of the defense by selecting Reuben Foster from Alabama. Foster is the type of player who can step in and produce at a high level instantly, providing his health (shoulder – rotator cuff) allows him to, of course. After watching the linebacker corps being devastated by injury last season, new general manager John Lynch decided to do all he can to never let that happen again.
The 49ers have given NaVorro Bowman a new partner-in-crime that he has been desperately searching for ever since Patrick Willis’ and Chris Borland’s sudden retirements a few years back. With the likes of linebackers such as Michael Wilhoite and Nick Bellore being tossed into the starting lineup due to injuries, the 49ers went out and got some insurance in Reuben Foster. The hard-hitting linebacker is poised to become the next star of the defense this season, so let’s find out exactly what the 49ers got in Reuben Foster.
NFL Network’s Mike Mayock compared Foster to Luke Kuechly during the 2017 NFL Draft. That is an eye-popping comparison, especially when you consider Luke was drafted 9th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft, and Foster fell all the way to 31. In Foster, the 49ers are getting a well-known leader with a vicious hitting style. After losing 15-20lbs, Reuben gained a noticeable amount of speed and overall quickness in his game. The 49ers get a linebacker with true sideline-sideline ability, who also has a reputation of being tough as they come.
Foster heard the previous criticism on his “poor” tackling effort, so he worked hard to improve in that area, and boy did it show. In 2016, Foster logged 60 solo tackles, 55 assists, 13.0 tackles for loss (TFL), 115 total tackles, and also 5.0 sacks. He totaled 42 more tackles, 4.0 more sacks, and 5.0 more TFL than in 2015. Reuben is a ferocious hitter, and will strike fear into any receiver or back going out across the middle for the pass. One of his greatest strengths is perhaps his explosiveness. After diagnosing the play, Foster is phenomenally quick at reacting and making the play more often than not. He is like a torpedo shot out of a submarine, hell-bent on blowing up a back or a receiver.
Foster is also not in over his head when asked to drop in coverage, the Crimson Tide product totaled ten passes defended in 2015 alone. When watching tape on him, rarely did I see backs coming out of the backfield able to run right past Foster, he just about always remained with them step for step. While dropping in coverage, he is able to keep his eyes locked on the quarterback, which allows him to react as quickly as possible after the ball is thrown.
However, we all know no rookie is set to step into Canton after the draft. As with any player, Foster comes with his fair share of weaknesses. He often appears to be overly reliant on his athleticism. Also, I’ve seen Foster’s aggressiveness work against him, being too quick to pursue what could possibly be the wrong target. Quarterbacks are also able to use the fact that Reuben is locked onto their eyes to their advantage by looking him off their intended target. Foster can improve on route awareness when dropping back into coverage to have a more polished skill set.
Reuben can also stand to improve his pass-rushing skills. He has two go-to moves: a bull rush and a shoulder dip. Outside of that, Reuben does not have anything else in his pass-rushing repertoire. It also goes without saying there are some concerns with his injury history. Foster suffered a handful of minor injuries in 2016 (arm, knee, concussion), but most importantly his torn rotator cuff in his shoulder (which was surgically repaired) is something the team will definitely be keeping an eye on. Reuben has said in the past he will be ready for training camp, but if for whatever reason it doesn’t heal fully, Lynch will more than likely be dragged through the mud by the media for trading up to select him.
All in all, the 49ers likely have struck gold in Reuben Foster. He was the #3 overall player on Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller’s big board, behind only Myles Garrett and Leonard Fournette. He is a ferocious, make-you-think-twice type of hitter, who is also able to drop into coverage better than most ILBs. If healthy, look for Foster to have a huge immediate impact for the 49ers this season. One thing is for sure, I’m putting my money on Reuben winning DROY.