49ers Film Room: What Linebacker Reuben Foster Brings to San Francisco

Dec 31, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Reuben Foster (10) during warm-ups before the 2016 CFP Semifinal against the Washington Huskies at the Georgia Dome. Alabama defeated Washington 24-7. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 31, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Reuben Foster (10) during warm-ups before the 2016 CFP Semifinal against the Washington Huskies at the Georgia Dome. Alabama defeated Washington 24-7. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports /

Newly drafted San Francisco 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster is an instant upgrade for a defense that looks to get back on track in 2017 after being one of the worst run defenses in 2016.

The San Francisco 49ers selected Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster by trading back into the first round of this past weekend’s NFL Draft.

In acquiring the 31st overall pick, the 49ers gave up their second-round pick (No. 34) and the fourth rounder they got from the Chicago Bears earlier in the day (No. 111) to the Seattle Seahawks, who originally acquired the 31st overall pick from the Atlanta Falcons.

Foster was the second linebacker taken in the first round.

For a variety of reasons, Foster is unquestioningly the best draft pick the 49ers acquired.

Widely regarded as the best linebacker in the draft, Foster was a first team All-American, according to USA Today and the Associated Press, and the 2016 Butkus Award winner for the nation’s best linebacker.

Reuben Foster College Defense & Fumbles Table
TacklesDef IntFumbles

Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 4/30/2017.

Let’s take a look at what he does well, and we’re he’ll need to improve.


According to Pro Football Focus’ 2017 draft guide, Foster was the No. 1 ranked linebacker in run stoppage at 16.3 percent.

This is likely due to his lateral quickness ability, enabling him to quickly change direction and chase plays down from the backside.

In this above play against USC, Foster diagnoses run from the middle linebacker position and chases down the USC linebacker, ducking and dodging USC blockers.

Foster is also great at the point of attack.

In this play above, he shows an ability to take on bigger offensive lineman, stand them up at the point of attack, shed and make the tackle. He

has the ability to play off blocks with physicality and make tackles in the run game.

Also against the run above, Foster stands out from the rest of the draft class with his ability to get downhill very quickly with the explosiveness to shoot gaps, sift through a gaggle of blockers, and make plays.

As a pass-rusher, Foster’s strength is as an interior rusher, mostly through the A-gap.

But anywhere in the interior that he has a clear line of sight will suffice.

At Alabama, he was used to blitz a few times per game. According to Sports Reference, Foster had five sacks last season but plays, like the one above, cannot be understated as they force the quarterback to move off his spot and rush the throw. He did rush from the edge, but he lacks the bend to get around the corner.

In the passing game, he’s certainly not a guy you want covering some of the speedier slot receivers. But Foster is a linebacker who definitely matches up well against most running backs and tight ends.

He certainly won’t be a liability in the passing game.

His strength in the passing game is in zone coverage, where he displays a good feel for the correct depth to lurk at when playing hook and middle zones, vitally important in the new Cover 3 pass defense. He follows the quarterback’s eyes and typically ends up near or at the point of catch.

According to Pro Football Focus’ draft guide, he had seven pass break-ups, tied nationally for the lead.


There are times where Foster will miss a tackle he should have had.

In the play above, he does have a slight tendency to run around blocks and overshoot his gap assignment. He gets a bit aggressive, doesn’t get his pad level low, preventing him wrapping up and making the tackle.

Another tendency he has is getting his hips turned and being ridden out of the play.

Foster is late getting his hands up to engage the blocker, allowing the blocker to seal him off from the play once he get’s Foster’s hips turned.

Fortunately these aren’t the norm, and he will likely overcome these flaws in a scheme that will highlight his strengths and give him the freedom to roam the middle of the field as well as attack the line of scrimmage.

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Foster will likely be slotted in the WILL linebacker position in the new base 4-3 defense but general manager John Lynch also stated, “that’s where he’ll lineup, but he’s going to be sideline to sideline.”

He will add athleticism and speed to a defense that needs both. With the 49ers talent deficiency, and essentially 53 open roster spots, Foster will have no trouble making the final cut on opening day and solidifying a defense that was ranked 31st against the run and 28th overall, per Football Outsiders.

Next: 5 Rookies Who Can Start Right Away for the 49ers

His pro comparison is none other than former 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis. That alone should give fans some hope for the future.

All gifs courtesy of ESPN and CBS via Draft Breakdown.