Round 1, No.2: LB Reuben Foster
Top 300 ranking: 3
This selection is one I’ve wrangled with over the past few days.
First I had Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas going here — the draft’s second best edge rusher, per Miller’s rankings. Thomas fills a need for the 49ers.
But, there’s too much overlap with current defensive linemen Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner. Thomas played a majority of his college ball on the interior, and the fit isn’t the best with Armstead and Buckner.
The Pewter Plank
Then I pondered LSU safety Jamal Adams. Regarded by some as one of the best overall players in this year’s draft, the Baton Rouge product is projected as a top-five pick. While the talent of Adams is undeniable, the fit isn’t the most logical considering the 49ers depth chart at safety.
The talk is that defensive back Jimmie Ward could slip into that free safety position, where he played in college, and that Eric Reid would switch from free safety to strong safety. Additionally, Antoine Bethea’s release has freed up space at the position.
And don’t forget the 49ers have Jaquiski Tartt as well –someone they believe fits in their new scheme as well– as reported by Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco.
So, that takes Adams off the board.
Considered LSU’s other top prospect, Leonard Fournette, at the No.2 spot. While I could see Kyle Shanahan wanting to replicate the two-headed backfield he had in Atlanta, and Fournette’s big frame combined with his speed is tantalizing, the running back is position is not of pressing need.
Enter Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster. Wait, haven’t I been the one reiterating the fact that this new regime wants high character guys? And didn’t Foster get sent home from the NFL Scouting Combine due to a dispute with a hospital worker?
Yes and yes.
By all accounts, this incident appears to be an anomaly. His Alabama teammates have spoken glowingly about Foster and his former head coach Nick Saban echoed those thoughts as well. I’m going to disregard this incident and take the word of the people who have been around Foster over the past few years that the linebacker is truly a high character individual.
As for the play of Foster, there is no doubts about his ability. Miller’s third ranked overall player, Foster was deemed Pro Football Focus’ most complete college linebacker. A stout run-stopper, the Alabama linebacker can also play pass coverage. Here’s Foster in pass coverage (courtesy of PFF):
And defending the pass is going to be an important skill for Foster to possess; NaVorro Bowman has the middle linebacker spot locked up, meaning Foster will be playing either weak side linebacker or strong side linebacker.
Using the Sacramento Bee‘s Matt Barrows estimated depth chart, linebacker Ahmad Brooks is the current strong-side linebacker, while free-agent signing Malcolm Smith is slotted as the weak-side linebacker. As Barrows mentions, the strong-side linebacker lines up on the line of scrimmage while also being tasked with the duty of pass coverage (essentially an outside linebacker).
Foster has shown he has the talent to drop back in coverage and he can certainly rush the ball. The infusion of Foster into the 49ers defense could result in a formidable front seven that features Armstead, Buckner, Bowman and Foster.