For years, the San Francisco 49ers’ linebackers were greatly feared by the rest of the league. All-Pro linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman were wreaking havoc from the middle of the defense. I remember a lengthy run of games where they didn’t allow a 100-yard rusher! That is just insane in today’s NFL and a far cry from the performances of the 49ers’ linebacker last season. While the Faithful will unfortunately never be able to see the gruesome-twosome Willis and Bowman tear up the field together ever again, we might just be in store for the next best thing. Rookie linebacker Reuben Foster looks like a bat out of hell flying straight into the NFL crushing anything and everything in his way.
The 49ers have been ravished by injuries, especially in the middle of their defense in the past few seasons. Last season, the heart and soul of the team, NaVorro Bowman suffered a season-ending injury yet again when he tore his Achilles tendon early on. Well, now the MON5T3R is back, fully healthy and man, does he feel disrespected! Let’s take a look at the 49ers manning the middle of the defense this season!
NaVorro Bowman is back and he is pissed, to say the least. The All-Pro linebacker recently told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle how he’s tired of being overlooked as the league’s best linebacker (when healthy, of course). Bowman will look to return to the field with an understudy beside him in rookie Reuben Foster. With a PFF rating of 85.4, the 49ers have one of the most complete linebackers manning the center of the defense. The 49ers are hoping Bow will pass the torch onto young gun Reuben Foster. However not any time soon that is, of course. It will be interesting to see how Bowman is utilized this season. He clearly will see the field on running downs, but it will worth following to how much he plays in obvious passing situations with the team clearly keen to get safety Jaquiski Tartt onto the field as often as they can.
The former-Seahawk has traded in his nauseating blue and green jersey for a wonderful scarlet and gold one. Coyle moves to the Bay to backup Bowman. The new regime clearly remember the consequences the old staff faced of not keeping capable reserve linebackers when Bowman went down with a season-ending injury in 2016. Coyle entered the league as an UDFA in 2014, signing with the Seattle Seahawks. He played a total of 129 snaps in 2016 in Seattle, which earned him a PFF grade of 73.2 in 2016, which is solid when remembering his role as a reserve. in the 2017 preseason, Coyle has totaled eight tackles in 3 games, per NFL Network.
The rookie from Alabama, Reuben Foster has perhaps the fastest rising stock of all the 49ers youngsters. He was the consensus top linebacker in this year’s draft class, but his shoulder injury, Combine misdemeanour and fears about his friends following him where he went hurt his stock immensely. Per PFF, Foster was the top graded lineback in 2016, with a grade of 93.9. Also, he led the SEC with 68 stops that same year. Despite reports from before the NFL Draft reporting multiple teams felt uncomfortable with his shoulder, and that he most definitely wouldn’t be ready in time for the start of the season, Foster has been on fire the entire preseason and looks to be entering the season with a full head of steam. He finished the preseason with a PFF grade of 82.0, which happened to top all rookie linebackers. He dominated as a run defender and cover man which bodes well as he will be asked to be an every down stud for the team. I for one would not like to be on the receiving end of a doubted Reuben Foster. Just ask Vikings running back Dalvin Cook!
— Jason The Great (@JasonTheGreat52) August 29, 2017
Ray-Ray Armstrong has quietly become quite the fan-favorite in the Bay Area. He entered the league in 2013 with the Rams as an UDFA, and has had a nice career so far. While he isn’t a household name (nor will he likely ever be), Armstrong has preformed surprisingly well during his time with the 49ers. Last season, he had earned himself a starting spot alongside NaVorro Bowman over veterans Gerald Hodges and Michael Wilhoite. In December of 2016, when Baalke still was the General Manager, the team awarded Armstrong with a two-year contract extension. The former college safety totaled seven tackles, one interception, one fumble-recovery and a tackle-for-loss in 2016, earning him a PFF grade of 79.3. Entering his fifth season, look for Armstrong to be a key contributor on the defensive side this year, but he will have to perform better in the regular season than he did in preseason, when he made a few glaring errors.
Former third-round pick Eli Harold is now entering his third year in the NFL, and he looks set to play a significant role on defense. While he hasn’t had the success the team had hoped for when selecting him 79th overall, Harold still has the potential to develop into something more for San Francisco as he is only 23 years old. He earned a poor PFF grade in 2016 – 51.3. Harold stands at 6’3″, 265 lbs. and is a force to be reckoned with – well, at least on paper. His skills haven’t quite fully transitioned into the NFL just yet. However, now that the 49ers are implementing a 4-3 defense under DC Robert Saleh, Harold might finally find the success we’ve all been hoping for. As a solid run defending outside linebacker he is well suited to the SAM linebacker end and appears to be finally finding his feet as a pass rusher. From a role perspective, Harold looks set to be a Vic Beasley style contributor – as a run down SAM linebacker and a nickel pass rusher.
The 49ers added Dekoda Watson in May of 2017, with a three-year contract worth $4.5 million. At first, some thought he’d likely just be another camp body. However, Watson played well enough to earn himself a spot on the 49ers 53-man roster. He stands tall at 6’2″, 245 lbs, and can really pack a punch. Watson finished the 2016 season in Denver with a PFF grade of 62.6. The linebacker is now entering his 8th year in the NFL, and looks to have finally found his home in San Francisco. In Denver, Watson had very few opportunities backing up the talented Shaquill Barrett and All-World SAM linebacker Von Miller. In San Francisco, he has already flashed as a rusher and looks set to fill a role as a special team stud and a nickel edge rushing option.
The 49ers selected Pita Taumoepenu out of Utah in the 6th round (202nd overall), and he has done nothing but impress the coaches and staff ever since. The rookie finished the preseason week three matchup in Minnesota with the fifth-highest grade from PFF, 79.8. The Texas-born Tongan has shown his ability to play light on his feet yet still able to quickly plant and change directions. Taumoepenu is a high-motor guy with tons of energy, which is just what this young 49ers defense needs right about now. He is more of a nickel edge rushing option now but could also fill in at SAM linebacker at a pinch.