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Player Spotlight: LB Reuben Foster

A detailed look at Reuben Foster's fantasty prospects for 2017 and beyond.

POSITIVES

  • He is an explosive hitter and a tone-setter.

  • Foster has excellent sideline-to-sideline range and will be an asset in coverage.

  • Having played both WLB and MLB in college, Foster is prepared to play either spot at the Pro level.

NEGATIVES

  • Foster has documented character concerns, including getting tossed from the Combine and failing a drug test because of a diluted sample.

  • He has documented health issues, especially with his shoulder.

  • Foster has some minor tackling and technique issues that need revision. 

LYNCH’S MOB

Newly appointed 49ers General Manager John Lynch had big decisions to make on Draft day. He had inherited a roster in need of retooling. This was especially noticeable on the defensive side of the ball, where the team had begun the transition from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3. One player that Lynch hoped to land was Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster, the third player on their overall draft board.  Lynch surrounded himself with men who shared his vision. First was Head Coach Kyle Shanahan, who called Reuben Foster his “favorite player in this draft.” Another was former Broncos executive Adam Peters. During a phone interview with Peters, he asked whom he would take with the number two pick. With no hesitation, Peters responded, “Reuben Foster.”  Lynch ultimately hired Peters to the Vice President of Player Personnel position. 

During the Draft, the 49ers traded back one spot with Chicago and still were able to land the number two player on their board, Solomon Thomas. Sure that another team would take Foster in the middle of the round, San Francisco began to look at who would be available in the early second round, where they held the 34th overall pick. When Foster began to slide, the 49ers worked to trade back into the round to select him. They were finally able to do so with the division rival Seattle Seahawks, giving up only their second and a fourth-round pick acquired in the earlier deal with the Bears.

FEROCIOUS FOSTER 

Many feel that Foster was the steal of the Draft. Even though inside linebacker is a position that has lately become devalued in the NFL, Foster profiles as one of the elite at this role. Kyle Shanahan has hinted that Foster will start out at the weakside linebacker position, but it’s possible they start him out on the strongside spot so that they can get their three best linebackers (Malcolm Smith, Bowman, and Foster) on the field at the same time. He’s played both middle and weakside linebacker in college, so there will be potential for him to move to the middle when Navorro Bowman’s time with the team is complete.

At 6’0” and 229 pounds, Foster is a good size for his position and can add more to his frame if necessary. He has played at 240 pounds in the past, but shed weight for his last season at Alabama so that he could play with more quickness. While watching Foster’s tape, what is most notable is how aggressive he is. Not only does he punish ball carriers with jarring collisions, he lays into blockers with equal fervor. He possesses impressive range and speed, easily flowing from sideline to sideline. He displays not only the ability to drop into coverage, but excels at doing it - something that is increasingly important in the modern game. Linebackers with these skillsets end up on the field for all three downs.

COULD FOSTER FAIL?

Perhaps the biggest concern with Foster is character. At the NFL Combine, Foster was dismissed after getting into a verbal altercation with a hospital worker. In May 2017, news broke that Foster had passed a diluted sample at the Combine. Foster claims that this was due to trying to rehydrate after an illness, but multiple medical personnel asked about this explanation have said that it is extremely unlikely.

Additionally, Foster had surgery in February to repair a torn rotator cuff. Coach Shanahan acknowledged in early May that if Foster’s shoulder does not heal correctly, he will need another surgery that would likely cause him to miss the 2017 season. It’s a positive sign that Foster is currently participating in individual drills in organized team activities, but Shanahan made it clear that Foster is not ready for contact on his surgically repaired shoulder at this point in time.

There are some things that Foster could clean up to become a better player and avoid future injury. On game film, one can sometimes see Foster get too aggressive; as a result, he ended up out of position to make the play. He’ll need to become more disciplined at sticking to his gap assignments. Another more common problem is that Foster drops his head as he makes a tackle. This can result in not only missing the tackle, but possible neck and shoulder injuries. Foster also needs to learn to stack and shed with more consistency or risk getting washed out of the play.  All of these things are potentially correctable issues. Linebackers Coach Johnny Holland will be tasked with helping Foster improve in these areas.

FINAL THOUGHTS

In redraft formats, until we get word that his injury is fully healed, Foster shouldn’t be drafted as any more than a flier. If we do hear that he is 100 percent healthy, move him up to low-end LB3 status in typical IDP scoring. Playing beside Navorro Bowman (and possibly Malcolm Smith) to start his career should cap his upside, at least for this year.

In dynasty formats, there is both high risk and high reward in taking Foster. Foster has all the physical attributes needed to be a Pro Bowl caliber contributor and a valuable player for your IDP squad in the long-term. On the other hand, Foster has shown several instances of immaturity that could be indicators he is not ready to successfully cross the emotional divide. One cannot help but draw comparisons to former Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain. McClain had enviable abilities as a football player, but also had a multitude of character issues. Despite chance after chance with multiple teams, he couldn’t break the cycle of substance abuse and getting into legal trouble. (McClain is currently suspended until at least November 2017 and is unlikely to play another NFL down.) Foster will have to demonstrate better decision making going forward or he could potentially take the same path. That said, he is still going off the board later that Jarrad Davis and has more long-term upside. If you are targeting Foster in your draft, Davis being selected is a good cue that it's time to pick Foster. 

2017 PROJECTIONS

AARON RUDNICKI’S PROJECTIONS

G

TKL

AST

SCK

FF

FR

PD

INT

TD

FPT

16

56

24

1

1

1

4

1

0

125.00

JOHN NORTON'S PROJECTIONS

G

TKL

AST

SCK

FF

FR

PD

INT

TD

FPT

9

31

12

0

1

0

1

1

0

66.00

OTHER VIEWPOINTS

Gary Davenport of FantasySharks says of Foster: 

“...Foster has the potential to be a three-down player from the moment he steps on an NFL field. And given the potential and the fantasy upside that comes with it, Foster is on the (very) short list to be the first defensive rookie drafted in both redraft and dynasty IDP leagues in 2017.

Patrick Anderson of The Fantasy Authority feels strongly that Foster profiles as a great linebacker for dynasty IDP formats:

If you are thinking Reggie Ragland with more speed and pass coverage skills, you have Foster. He will be a tackle monster at the NFL level giving you a solid LB1... Either way, if your league grants competitive IDP scoring you can look to safely add Foster at the bottom of the 2nd rounds at the 2.11 or 2.12.” (sic)

Dynasty League Football’s Doug Green writes of Foster’s dynasty value: “You should draft him with an early IDP pick (Early round 2 in a 12-team league) and feel confident in doing so.