Solomon Thomas was the 49ers’ top draft pick, and linebacker Reuben Foster was No. 2. Thomas is completely healthy and fit, while Foster has an injured shoulder that scared many teams away from him early in the first round.
Yet some believe Foster could have the greatest impact on the 49ers’ defense in 2017.
This week, Nick Wagoner, who covers the 49rs for ESPN.com, selected Foster as the team’s potentially best rookie – if he’s healthy.
“Foster will start from the get-go and should instantly improve the league’s worst run defense,” wrote Wagoner. “Foster will probably begin at weakside linebacker next to NaVorro Bowman in the middle, but he’ll eventually become the middle linebacker and center of the defense (though maybe not this year).”
Wagoner says Foster’s ability to be a three-down player gives him a slight edge over Thomas as a rookie.
At the same time, Alabama football coach Nick Saban, who coached Foster for the Crimson Tide, told Joe Fann of the 49ers website that Foster is a special player both for his physical gifts and for his never-stop attitude.
“The thing that probably is unique (to Reuben) is that he is a relentless competitor,” said Saban. “I mean relentless when he’s out there playing. I think that’s a difficult standard for a lot of guys to sustain. It seems to be a part of who Reuben is.”
Foster, a 6-foot-1, 238-pounder, was a playmaking machine at Alabama, in on 115 tackles (including 13 for loss with five sacks) in 2016 and 73 (eight for loss with one sack) in 2015.
Foster didn’t participate in on-field work during the 49ers’ recent rookie minicamp, but is projected to be ready to play by the time training camp opens in July. Saban believes Foster will be a star for San Francisco.
“Reuben is a fantastic player,” Saban told Fann. “He’s a great competitor. He’s very, very instinctive and very athletic. He’s a quick-reactor who can play in space. He can cover people. He’s a good-enough thumper against the run. He has a great burst and closing speed. He’s a good blitzer. He’s a really, really good player.”