San Francisco 49ers: Who is linebacker Reuben Foster?

Apr 28, 2017; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers first round draft pick linebacker Reuben Foster answers questions from the media during the press conference at Levi's Stadium Auditorium. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 28, 2017; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers first round draft pick linebacker Reuben Foster answers questions from the media during the press conference at Levi's Stadium Auditorium. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports /

Niner Noise’s 2017 “Who Is?” series on San Francisco 49ers players shifts focus to former Alabama standout, and first-round NFL draftee, linebacker Reuben Foster.

Former Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster was seconds away from being selected by the New Orleans Saints late in Round 1 of the 2017 NFL Draft, only to have the San Francisco 49ers swoop in for the pick.

“I clicked over for the San Francisco 49ers and I think I said, ‘Hello?’ while the New Orleans Saints were still on the line,” Foster said (h/t Pro Football Talk). “But I wanted to be a 49er so bad.”

And now he is.

San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers /

San Francisco 49ers

Foster’s collegiate stats don’t even tell half the story. Sure, his 115 tackles in 2016 speak to his ability to consistently be around the ball. And no one can question his motor and drive.

Yet Foster doesn’t come without red flags.

At the NFL Scouting Combine, Foster got into an argument with a medical professional while awaiting the usual drug screens and evaluation. And that test ended up being a negative dilute, which technically counts as a failed test.

This, combined with a nagging shoulder injury that required offseason surgery, surely pushed Foster’s draft stock way down from the top-10 prognosis many analysts had earlier this offseason.

But the 49ers still must have felt they got a steal at No. 31 overall.

Foster was listed third on general manager John Lynch’s big board, per David Fucillo of Niners Nation. So it’s easy to see just how worthwhile this move was for Lynch to make.

If he stays healthy his rookie year, Foster will likely wind up as the team’s WILL linebacker in a 4-3 base scheme. This is the playmaking linebacker position and, when paired with perennial All-Pro NaVorro Bowman, the Niners may be able to enjoy one of the best linebacker tandems in the NFL once again.

So what’s on tap for 2017?

Why He’ll Improve

It would be easy and repetitive to sing Foster’s praises and reasons why he’ll immediately provide an impact for the Niners’ budding defense.

His sideline-to-sideline abilities are top notch. And like his 49ers predecessor and childhood icon, Patrick Willis, Foster is the kind of player always around the ball.

We could go into further detail about Foster’s on-field abilities. But the best bet is to take an Xs and Os look, broken down by Niner Noise’s Rich Madrid, on how Foster’s impact will likely be felt in 2017.

Related Story: 49ers film room: What Reuben Foster brings to the defense

Needless to say, there’s almost no limit to the expectation level for this outstanding rookie contributor.

“I’m trying to be the next Patrick Willis,” Foster said shortly after being drafted, per KNBR’s Kevin Jones.

And there’s no shortage of comparisons between the two either.

Why He’ll Regress

It’s hard to find too many reasons why Foster won’t be a Pro Bowl-level candidate right away for San Francisco.

But if there is a red flag, it almost entirely stems from his shoulder concerns.

Shortly after the NFL Draft, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported why the offseason shoulder injury, and subsequent results, caused Foster’s stock to fall. Schefter wrote:

"“The surgery didn’t take,” said one well-placed source with knowledge of the injury.Last week, USA Today Sports reported that Foster slipped in the draft because at least one team was concerned he would need additional shoulder surgery.Another source predicted that Foster would not make it through his rookie season and that the linebacker’s shoulder could give out on any hit. The 49ers’ doctors, however, are comfortable with the condition of Foster’s shoulder and hopeful it will hold up, though they understand there could be a risk, according to sources."

Indeed, the Niners are reportedly feeling as if Foster doesn’t need another surgery and he should be ready to go by the start of training camp.

Foster’s NFL development could get off to a slightly slower start because of all this, which could set back his abilities to immediately impact the defense right away.

What to Expect in 2017

Foster’s injury concerns are real and will likely parallel his rookie season. But there are plenty of reasons to be excited about his prognosis as well.

As noted earlier, Foster has often drawn comparisons to Willis. The same goes with Carolina Panthers standout linebacker Luke Kuechly. Both Willis and Kuechly were given AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award winners in 2007 and 2012, respectively.

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Is it possible Foster is on the same trajectory?

Perhaps. Maybe even most likely.

Regardless, 49ers fans can easily look back to the days when Willis and Bowman patrolled the second level of San Francisco’s defense. Those were the years in which the Niners boasted one of the most fearsome defensive units in the NFL.

And with Foster joining the ranks, signs are pointing to this much-maligned unit getting back on the right track.

Next: 10 best linebackers in 49ers franchise history

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