Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Shanahan reveals when he realized Fred Warner was special

Jan 24, 2023 at 11:27 AM--

Fred Warner is elite. The San Francisco 49ers linebacker earned Pro Football Focus' second-highest defensive grade of the season, second only to Bobby Wagner of the Los Angeles Rams. Warner has led the team in tackles in each of his five NFL seasons since the Niners made him a third-round pick in 2018.

Warner has received his accolades. He is a two-time first-team All-Pro and a two-time Pro Bowl selection. Those honors didn't come until his third NFL season, though. The 49ers knew they had a special player long before that.

"Fred is as good of a player as there is in this league," head coach Kyle Shanahan said this week. "His rookie year, we knew we had something special with just how he came in and was able to play so much for us and the pressure we put on him calling the defense and how he could handle it as a rookie like he was a 10-year vet.

"And then the second year is really when he took off, and you could see how special he was when he led us to the 8-0 start and the number one defense in the league."

Warner has never earned fewer than the 118 tackles he racked up in his second NFL season, averaging nearly 127 per season. The star linebacker registered 130 tackles, three tackles for a loss, six quarterback hits, an interception, a career-high 10 passes defensed, a forced fumble, and two sacks this season, adding 12 tackles in two playoff games and intercepting Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott on Sunday.

"He played like an All-Pro," Al Sacco of the 49ers Webzone No Huddle podcast said of Warner's play against the Cowboys. "He played like a future Hall of Famer. I thought he made that much of a difference. He was all over the field. And when you have guys like that, it makes a huge difference."

Warner's 85.4 overall Pro Football Focus grade is the second-highest of his career (88.6 in 2020), and his 90.1 run-defense grade is a career-high. He's proven to be an excellent defender in pass coverage too.

Shanahan has had to game plan against some good ones over the years. How does Warner compare?

"You always had [former Panthers LB] Luke Kuechly and [former Cowboys LB] Sean Lee who were so good at it," Shanahan shared. "You always had [Rams LB] Bobby Wagner and [former Seahawks LB] K.J. Wright, who were as good as anyone at it.

"And then you have Fred right there, and Dre [Greenlaw] and Azeez [Al-Shaair] are coming right along too, but it always started with Fred, and he covers a lot of ground over the middle, and I know those are usually the guys that the quarterbacks notice the most."

On Sunday, the 49ers will participate in their third NFC Championship Game in four years. San Francisco's defensive leader, Warner, is a big reason why the team is in this position.
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