Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

49ers’ Fred Warner is helping usher in a ‘new age’ of linebackers

Aug 1, 2021 at 1:32 PM--

Fred Warner has proven that he can do it all. That's why the San Francisco 49ers recently locked up their star linebacker to a massive contract extension, ensuring he remains with the team for years to come. Warner represents a change in the prototypical NFL linebacker. Athleticism and versatility have become more important than the massive linebackers who were once the prototype.

Who better to comment on that than the 49ers new defensive coordinator, DeMeco Ryans, who played the position for 10 seasons at a weight of around 250 pounds? Now, Warner is the new form factor for NFL linebackers, and that has Ryans excited about the player's future.

"I think the way the game is changing with a lot more passing, a lot of spread offenses, you know, there's a lot of running involved now with the linebackers," Ryans told reporters on Saturday. "So there's no more 250-pound, big linebackers running downhill. You have to be able to be athletic. You have to be fast. You have to be able to cover backs, covers tight ends. And that's what Fred does."

Many NFL teams weren't sure about Warner's potential entering the 2018 draft. However, a strong showing leading to and at the Senior Bowl, including a six-tackle performance for the North squad during the game, raised Warner's draft stock and convinced the 49ers that the linebacker was worth a third-round pick.

"He fits the mold of the new age linebacker, where, as I said before, he can do it all," Ryans continued. "And I think that's where the game is going, and those are the type of linebackers that we look for our scheme."

Warner went onto the practice field on Saturday morning and showed exactly why he's one of the top talents at the position. He came away with a Jimmy Garoppolo-thrown pass and returned the interception for a would-be pick-six.

Ryans praised his linebacker's ability to read Garoppolo's eyes and come away with the football. The effort fired up his defensive teammates, too, showing the type of excitement that the linebacker can create.

"Fred's a guy, he drops in zone coverage and does a really good job being patient, staying square, eyes on the quarterback," Ryans said. "And he really did a great job of reading Jimmy there, breaking on a ball. Fred has been working on his hands throughout the offseason, so it's paying off for him.

"So happy to see him get that pick, and you could tell everyone's excited on the sidelines for him. But Fred is a guy I look to make those type of plays, those impact game-changing plays. Those are plays that Fred can make. He's done them in the past, and just expect him to even do it more as he continues to develop in his career."

Warner's five-year extension could be worth up to $95 million. That's a nice payday for a player who has only been in the league for three seasons. It's well-deserved. Warner has led the 49ers in tackles in each of his three seasons. Seeing the team take care of its talented linebacker motivates other young defenders — like teammate Dre Greenlaw.

"Once he got it, I was happy for him because there's nobody in our program that deserves it more than him," Greenlaw said this past week. "He's the first one in, the last one out. Just to be able to play beside somebody that's dedicated to the game and loves it like that, and also just to see somebody be able to reap the reward that they've worked for, it definitely makes you want to go harder.

"And it makes you just want to look at him even more, the things that he's doing, because he's doing the right things."

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