Niners' Defense Is Much Different Without Foster - NBC Bay Area
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Coverage of the San Francisco 49ers

Niners' Defense Is Much Different Without Foster

Even in limited action as a rookie in 2017, Foster ranked as one of the NFL's top linebackers and players, according to analytic website Pro Football Focus

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    Niners linebacker Reuben Foster (No. 56) ranked fourth among all NFL linebackers in performance in 2017, according to one analysis. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

    Reuben Foster’s tumultuous offseason will continue into the regular season now that he’s been suspended for the first two games of 2018.

    Foster was suspended and fined by the NFL last week for violating the league’s conduct and substance abuse policies.

    How big an impact will his absence have on the Niners in those two games?

    Potentially, it’s big.

    The fact Foster won’t be on the field against the Vikings – one of the NFC’s best teams – and Lions means San Francisco won’t have probably its best defensive player.

    Although Foster got a late start to his rookie training camp in 2017, then was injured in the season opener and fought back to get in the lineup, the former Alabama star was terrific. He showed great range and speed, strong instincts and transformed the 49ers defense when he was in the game.

    Recently, in fact, the analytic website Pro Football Focus graded Foster as one of the top linebackers in the NFL in 2017. Foster’s overall grade of 90.7 ranked No. 4, behind only Seattle’s Bobby Wagner (96.7), Tampa Bay’s Lavonte David (94.2) and Carolina’s Luke Kuechly (93.9). Notably, Foster achieved the grade as a rookie.

    Breaking down Foster’s performance even further, he ranked tied for fifth among all inside linebackers in run-stop percentage for his 25 tackles on 223 run-defense snaps. With more experience, Foster could be even better in 2018.

    Foster also was ranked by PFF as the 59th best overall player in the NFL in its annual ranking of the top 101 players, and the second-best rookie, behind only Buffalo cornerback Tre’Davious White.

    Wrote PFF: “Injuries aside, Reuben Foster was spectacular as a rookie and if he had more playing time, he could have featured significantly higher on the list. Foster looks like he is continuing the recent tradition of standout 49ers linebackers, and was visibly playing at a different speed than most linebackers. His overall PFF grade of 90.7 was one of the best grades in the league, and he did it on just 553 snaps.”

    Of course, Foster’s off-field missteps worry the franchise. This offseason he was involved in two misdemeanor incidents. Prosecutors also decided there wasn’t sufficient evidence to pursue a more serious allegation.

    General manager John Lynch says he and the team have talked with Foster about his need to stay focused on his job and avoid potentially volatile situations.

    “Although we are disappointed that Reuben will not be with our team for the first two games of the season, we will continue to work with him on making better decisions and eliminating unnecessary distractions,” Lynch said in a statement when the suspension was announced. “We are encouraged to see Reuben take responsibility for his mistakes and hopeful that he has learned from them as well.”