The San Francisco 49ers brought in free-agent linebacker Korey Toomer this offseason, who is the subject of Niner Noise’s next installment of our annual “Who Is?” series.
Earlier this offseason, the San Francisco 49ers had no idea what the future held for twice-arrested linebacker Reuben Foster. Before his domestic violence case was dismissed, and his illegal weapons possession charge dropped to a misdemeanor, the Niners were looking at a lengthy suspension for the 2017 rookie standout. Perhaps worse.
So it made sense general manager John Lynch and Co. brought aboard free-agent linebacker Korey Toomer this offseason.
Toomer, who spent the last two seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers, entered the league as a fifth-round NFL Draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks. He bounced around a bit before finding a bona fide role with the Chargers in 2016, eventually starting eight games with L.A. last season, registering 29 tackles and two forced fumbles in the process.
|2 yr||2 yr||SDG-LAC||28||16||1||59||1||59||5||5||1||2||2.0||78||40|
|1 yr||1 yr||DAL||1||0|
|1 yr||1 yr||OAK||10||0|
|1 yr||1 yr||STL||7||0||1||2|
Toomer has some familiarity with the current defensive scheme the 49ers operate. Niners defensive coordinator Robert Saleh worked within the Seahawks system under then-defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who held the same role with Toomer’s Chargers a year ago.
Understanding the scheme should help Toomer transition seamlessly into what Saleh is implementing in San Francisco.
But is that alone enough to make the roster and provide a serious impact?
Why Korey Toomer Improves in 2018
Toomer was little more than a depth option and special teams contributor his first few years in the league, only earning a significant role with the Chargers last season.
In this, Toomer performed relatively well. Pro Football Focus handed the 29 year old an 80.3 overall grade, with 79.5 and 75.3 marks against the run and in pass coverage, respectively.
Being able to operate as both a weak-side (WILL) and MIKE linebacker should add to his versatility. And it helps Saleh views these two linebacker positions as interchangeable. Plus, Toomer ran a 4.53 40-yard time at his pro day back in 2012. And while he might have lost a step since then, Toomer still has good converging speed, which surely aided his efforts against both the run and pass last year.
If Toomer is able to build upon what was a solid addition a year ago, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him fill a substantial role as a rotational player over the course of 2018.
Why He Regresses
It’s always a bit of a concern seeing a player bounce around so much early in his career. While it’s possible Toomer is another one of those “late bloomers,” it’s also just as likely he reached his peak effort last season.
That could mean 2017 winds up being his best year as a pro. This year, it’s just as possible he reverts to being little more than a backup option.
The relatively low number of tackles he had with the Chargers last season also is a small indication he’s not always around the ball, which is exactly what Foster thrived at doing a season ago. This could be negated somewhat if Toomer handles his coverage duties well, discouraging his assignments from being targeted. But the PFF numbers don’t suggest he’s particularly great at that either.
San Francisco 49ers
Chances of Making the 49ers’ 53-Man Roster in 2018
Toomer signed just a one-year, $790,000 deal with the Niners this offseason. If he’s cut, San Francisco would owe a mere $90,000 in dead money. Financially, the 49ers have almost no commitment to Toomer whatsoever.
Yet the Niners won’t determine their depth chart based off contracts alone. And Foster’s two-game suspension to start the year opens up the extra spot on the 53-man roster.
Linebacker is going to be an interesting training camp battle to watch anyway. Toomer will be competing with fellow linebackers Malcolm Smith, Brock Coyle, rookie Fred Warner and others this July and August. It’s possible San Francisco keeps all four of these players to start the season.
Smith has concerns in coverage, while Warner should excel there. With Toomer holding his own against both the pass and run, it’s perfectly logical to assume he’ll handle WILL or MIKE duties. Possibly even as a starter.
Still, Toomer will have to beat out one of the depth options this preseason to ensure he can hang onto a spot when Foster returns in Week 3.
If he does, it’s still going to be a long shot for him to retain any starting duties over the rest of 2018.
But heck, a quality backup is never a bad option here.