Will Reuben Foster be the next Vontaze Burfict for the 49ers?

Impact playmakers at inside linebacker are hard to come by, but the 49ers think they’ve found one in former Alabama standout Reuben Foster, trading up to select him with the 31st pick in the 2017 NFL draft.

The former five-star recruit’s stock surged with a stellar 2016, highlighted by his leadership on a juggernaut Crimson Tide defense that ranked first against the run, in total yardage, and scoring.

A diluted sample at the NFL Combine and unrelated dismissal from the event, however, make the selection of Foster a gutsy move. The linebacker is one of the more talented players in this year’s draft class, but his list of concerns has grown over the past couple of months.

For the year, Foster recorded 115 tackles, including 13 for loss, five sacks, and two passes defended. He was a force against the run, clamping down on opposing ball-carriers in Alabama’s historic season of defensive dominance.

Why did 49ers pick Foster?
Foster is the latest in a long and fairly successful list of Alabama linebackers selected in the early rounds, a group which includes Reggie Ragland, C.J. Mosley, Dont’a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, Rolando McClain, and DeMeco Ryans.

But Foster, a unanimous All-American and Butkus Award winner as the nation’s top collegiate linebacker, might be the best of the bunch.

Aggressiveness

Some might grimace at a Vontaze Burfict comparison, but the parallels are there. Burfict plays on the edge, and similarly, Foster’s on-field aggressiveness is rare in today’s NFL. It’s a ferocity that is hard to match, with an alpha-dog mentality capable of elevating an entire team when things are going well. Foster is also an efficient blitzer, as evidenced by his seven career sacks at Alabama.

The linebacker’s aggressiveness is apparent in how he takes chances, whether it’s shooting into gaps to hitting pulling linemen and finishing tackles with a boom. Foster plays with swagger, and he has the talent level to back up his style.

Athleticism

Teams rarely select inside linebackers near the top of the draft. But when they do, it’s often due to a player’s unteachable traits. Foster has such gifts, boasting an ability to run with running backs and cover ground from sideline to sideline.

This athleticism allows him to take chances. And when he does, he often brings the wood, and he loves doing it, too.

“There’s that moment,” Foster said in an interview with The MMQB, “when you first hit somebody and you get chills. You hear the crowd say Ooooh. And before that, when you put on your suit and you transform and you become a dog; you’re a beast. Just seeing all the other guys become a dog with you. No stress.”

Are there any concerns with Foster?
Remember that Burfict comparison? Here’s where things come full circle. Burfict has been to the Pro Bowl. Foster has the same potential, maybe even more. But it comes with plenty of concerns.

The on-field concerns vary, but the most prominent is style of play. Being a vicious hitter comes at a price. Trying to rattle off big hits, Foster has shown tendencies to drop his head, which can lead to major injuries. With some past issues regarding stingers, medical concerns are at the top of the chart in terms of risks for the standout linebacker.

An aggressive play style can come with repercussions in today’s NFL. Foster’s hit on Deshaun Watson in the National Championship, for example, drew a flag that could’ve potentially resulted in harsher punishment had it occurred in the NFL.

Foster’s dismissal from the NFL Combine will linger as a conversation point for the early portion of his career, even if he ends up being a solid player. He was arguably the combine’s biggest loser, giving teams potential reason to question his character and attitude. Even for a guy who loves the game, question marks like the ones he left teams at the combine are hard to overlook.

Why does Foster have an Auburn tattoo?
Good question. Foster verbally committed to Alabama in 2011 but changed his commitment to Auburn in 2012. The linebacker dressed his daughter up in Auburn gear as he made the announcement and even got a tattoo of the school’s logo before changing his commitment back to Alabama in 2013.

How Foster fits with 49ers
The Niners are essentially devoid of talent on both sides of the ball. Foster would have probably gone much earlier in the first round had the combine issue and the diluted sample not caused his stock to plummet before the draft. As long as he can stay healthy and the off-field concerns don’t interfere, he should be a quality addition for a San Francisco defense that needs it.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports



Reuben Foster: Saints 'were certain' they'd pick me

We were already made aware that the New Orleans Saints had quarterback Patrick Mahomes snatched from their clutches one pick before the No. 11 selection. Now we have confirmation that Sean Payton had another player taken right before he was about to pull the trigger.

This story comes right from the horse's mouth.

Speaking to reporters Friday, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster detailed how he was on the phone with the Saints (selecting No. 32) when the Niners traded up to snag him.

Foster said the Saints called him and asked to talk to his girlfriend. Then 49ers GM John Lynch dialed in.

We'll pick up the tale from there:

"And so that's when a click had came in, and she pulled the phone out and I saw it was San Jose, so I had clicked over," Foster said. "I had clicked over for the San Francisco 49ers and I picked it up and I said hello while the New Orleans Saints are still on the line. And I'm like, 'Dang.' But I wanted to be a 49er so bad, it was funny. But man, it was crazy."

Did the Saints tell you that they had picked you?

"They wanted to pick me, but it was too late. They were the 31st pick. They traded down. So they couldn't. I told John Lynch, coach John Lynch, that it was too late. I said, 'Man, coach, you're the 34th pick, it's too late. The New Orleans Saints are about to get me.'"

What did the Saints tell your girlfriend?

"'You've got to take your time and really scope him and be there for him.' She's from Louisiana, Baton Rouge. New Orleans is just a 45-minute drive. So they wanted her there with her family and be like a home welcoming. Like a home away from home."

They were certain they were going to pick you?

"Yeah, they were certain they were going to pick me."

They were welcoming you, your girlfriend, your family essentially, when John called on the other line?

"Yeah."

So was it awkward at all when you clicked back on the other line to talk to the Saints?

"No. I hung up."

Thus ended a rough day for the Saints, who settled for offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk.

Getting corner Marshon Lattimore and Ramczyk immediately improves the Saints, but it's not nearly as sexy a day as Sean Payton could have had if Mahomes and Foster landed in his lap.


Saints called to welcome Reuben Foster to the team, but the 49ers drafted him first

One of the most shocking developments of the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft was former Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster falling all the way to pick No. 31, where he was selected by the 49ers, who traded up from the top of the second round to get him.

Foster was widely considered the best linebacker in the draft and one of the top few players overall, and there were some mild concerns about his medical tests, a verbal disagreement with a hospital worker at the combine, and a diluted sample test at the combine as well, but he was still expected to be selected in the top half of the first round.

And yet he tumbled down the draft board. Foster tumbled so far that the Saints, who owned the No. 32 pick in the first round, felt good enough that he'd last one more pick that they decided to give him a call welcoming him to the team before they officially came on the clock. It turns out, they jumped the gun just a bit.

49ers general manager John Lynch described the scene in his post-first round press conference on Thursday night:
When did you find out that you had to get above New Orleans to get to Foster?

JL: "[NFL Network reporter] Steve [Wyche], we were just trying everyone. We were going down the line. I think this is something that we can talk about when Reuben's here, but Reuben thought that because we were at 34, we made a trade at the end with Seattle and when I was talking to him, he said, 'Coach, New Orleans is taking me,' and I said, 'No, we're taking you.' It was hard because it happened late in the process and so, he was really excited when he found out that we had pulled off that trade and we were certainly very excited."

New Orleans head coach Sean Payton did say that they were probably taking Reuben Foster if you guys hadn't. Did you have intel that was suggesting that?

JL: "No. No, just when Reuben told us. He calls everyone coach. Calls me coach too."

The 49ers certainly seem happy about how it all worked out, as many analysts have stated on Friday that they had one of the best first rounds of any team in the league. They came away with what Lynch said were two of the top three players on their board (Lynch said Foster was the pick at No. 3 if the Bears had taken Solomon Thomas after trading up to No. 2) and scooped up some extra draft value through the trade-down as well. Not bad for a night's work.

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