Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports



File this under information that you don't need to tell any member of the Niner Faithful. Former NFL linebacker-turned-NFL Media analyst Willie McGinest released a list of his top young linebackers to watch in 2017. It is a list of players who McGinest feels are set to break out during the upcoming season. On the list is San Francisco 49ers rookie linebacker Reuben Foster.

McGinest is a fan of the 49ers linebacker group. In June, he named the unit as the fourth-best in the league. In his latest list, the NFL analyst projects that Foster will finish the 2017 season with 100 tackles, four passes defensed, three sacks, and two interceptions.

McGinest had the following to say about Foster.

"San Francisco picked up a great talent late in the first round of this year's draft. This is a rookie who could make huge waves immediately. Foster has tremendous instincts and is coming into the league as one of the best open-field tacklers. If there's a prototype linebacker that a team should build around, he's it. Foster comes in with a lot of knowledge after being the quarterback of Nick Saban's defense at Alabama, and playing alongside veteran NaVorro Bowman will only make his transition to the pros easier. I won't be surprised if Foster seriously contends for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award."

Foster was selected with the 31st overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. The 49ers traded back into the first round to select the college phenom, sending their original second-round pick (34) and the fourth-round pick (111) that they acquired via a trade with the Chicago Bears earlier in the draft to the Seattle Seahawks.

Foster had some health concerns entering the draft, which caused his stock to fall. He underwent surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder. It was an injury that prevented Foster from participating in the NFL Scouting Combine. While the injury may have contributed to other teams passing on the talented linebacker, both Foster and the 49ers medical staff feel confident about his recovery and believe the rookie will be ready to go for training camp. He was limited during the team's offseason program.

"He's been doing great with his rehab," Shanahan said in June. "I really have no concerns. I think he'll be more than ready to go by training camp. That's my feeling. I can't promise that, but I'd be surprised if it wasn't."

Bowman is another linebacker who is returning from injury. If completely healthy, he is a near-lock to start at one of the spots inside with Foster and free agent acquisition Malcolm Smith competing for the weak-side linebacker spot. Bowman is returning from a torn Achilles suffered in October. It was an injury that limited the All-Pro linebacker's 2016 season to just four games. Bowman was a full participant during all of the 49ers' offseason program.

"Some reports said Bowman looked slow and not fully recovered from Achilles surgery this spring," Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee recently wrote. "That may have been the case in the team's very first minicamp before the draft but not so as OTAs and later minicamps got underway."

In June, McGinest called Foster "one of the best rookies at the position." That's high praise from McGinest, who played linebacker for 15 seasons with the New England Patriots (1994–2005) and the Cleveland Browns (2006–2008). McGinest was elected to the Pro Bowl twice and won three Super Bowl championships over his career.

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