Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

49ers’ Fred Warner the only non-DB named to Next Gen Stats’ top 10 coverage players

Jun 4, 2021 at 3:40 PM--

Fred Warner is a pretty good defensive back ... er ... linebacker. Wait a minute...

Nick Shook of NFL Media published a ranking of the top 10 coverage players in the NFL from 2020, and one player seems to be out of place. Warner of the San Francisco 49ers is a linebacker. Everyone else on the list is a defensive back.

The list was created using several advanced metrics.

"We set a minimum of 300 coverage snaps and 40 targets to achieve legitimate volume among qualifiers," Shook explained. "Players also had to finish with a catch rate allowed that was below expectation, a negative targeted expected points added (a metric used to quantify how much an individual player impacted an opponents' scoring potential), a tight window percentage of at least 20 percent (15 percent for linebackers -- more on that later) -- and a maximum passer rating allowed of 80. These requirements pared down the candidates to only those with the most well-rounded production."

Those metrics were combined with each player's target rate, average separation, ballhawk rate, and other Next Gen Stats to identify those who were the best in coverage.

It's not just the Next Gen Stats that prove Warner's value in coverage. The linebacker's 91.1 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus last season ranked second among all defenders with a qualifying number of snaps.

"Warner's numbers were freakishly good for a linebacker," wrote Shook, "a position that typically requires a read step to detect whether the play is a run or a pass before a player can then act on the play (giving pass catchers an advantage at the start), yet he still forced tight windows at a 16 percent rate, clearing the minimum requirement we set for linebackers in this exercise. His catch rate allowed below expectation of -16.5 percent is the best mark in that category for any qualifying player since 2017.

"Let's also consider he allowed a completion rate of just 54 percent, the lowest by any linebacker in the Next Gen Stats era (dating back to 2016, with a minimum of 50 targets)."

Warner is preparing to enter his fourth NFL season and the final year of his rookie contract. The former third-round pick has already proven to be one of the best linebackers in the game, and any contract extension will have to reflect that. Head coach Kyle Shanahan recently stated that he expects Warner to be a Niner forever.

"Obviously, I want to be a Niner for life, too, right?" Warner told reporters last week. "I know all that stuff will work itself out in due time, and I'm just focused on being the best player I can for this team."

Mike Tannenbaum, ESPN's NFL front office insider, recently said that Warner "should be at the very high end of the market" and that the floor for any deal would likely be an annual salary of $15 million. That's the minimum. It will likely be more. One comparable player might be Bobby Wagner of the Seattle Seahawks, who earns $18 million annually.

Warner has led the 49ers in tackles during each of his three NFL seasons. He recorded five tackles for a loss, seven quarterback hits, one sack, two interceptions, and six passes defensed to go with his team-leading 125 tackles.

"Now, for the cherry on top: Warner rushed the passer 93 times in 2020 and recorded 13 pressures, both the highest totals of his career," Shook added. "Warner has proven he deserves to be mentioned among the league's best."

Warner earned Pro Football Focus' highest overall grade (88.6) among linebackers last season, on the way to his first Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors.

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