In recent years, there haven’t been many colleges that have produced more NFL linebackers than the University of Alabama. And as Chance Linton of 247 Sports wrote, ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper thinks that 2016 Butkus Award winner Reuben Foster might be the best of the group.
“I think to me he’s the best inside linebacker Alabama has produced,” Kiper said. “And they’ve produced some really good ones like C.J. Mosley, Rolando McClain, Dont’a Hightower and that list goes on and on.”
“I think you look at Reuben Foster — with his ability to get to the sideline and get to the flanks, be a sideline-to-sideline defender with just speed, be in coverage getting the job done, he can get after the quarterback — I have No. 4 right now on the big board. He got pushed down to No. 11 (in the mock draft) because you gotta go with need, you gotta find a team that needs an inside linebacker like Foster. I went with Foster to New Orleans for that reason, but I think he’s a great bargain at that point, I have him graded out as the fourth-best player overall.”
Foster, who tallied 115 tackles, 13 TFL and five sacks for the Crimson Tide, is the consensus No. 1 inside linebacker on most draft boards, including that of Rob Rang of CBS Sports. “As evidenced by the fact that he was voted the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year, a unanimous All-American and led the national champs in tackles in 2015, there is no question that Reggie Ragland was the heart and soul of Alabama’s linebacker corps,” Rang said.
“But a funny thing happened along the way to Ragland earning the 41st overall selection of the 2016 NFL Draft. As scouts poured over the game film, it became increasingly obvious that the Tide’s “other” inside linebacker, Foster, was by far and away the more athletic of the two.”
That athleticism was on full display in 2016, and as Foster prepares to follow Ragland into the NFL it appears as if Foster will come off the board a fair bit sooner than his former teammate.
In his most recent mock draft, ESPN’s Todd McShay slotted Foster to the Arizona Cardinals at pick No. 13. “If the right QB is available here,” McShay said, “I wouldn’t count the Cardinals out. With Watson and Trubisky off the board, though, Foster is the pick. He’s one of the 10 best players in this draft; the only reason he might slide a bit is his position. He shed weight and played much faster in 2016, proving to be an every-down linebacker. The Cardinals have six defensive starters set to hit free agency. Whom they re-sign will play a big role in the direction they take with this pick.”
Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus went McShay one better. Actually, he went McShay 11 better — mocking Foster to the San Francisco 49ers with the second overall pick. “Another team in need of a quarterback,” he said, “the 49ers are also lacking a clean fit for new Head Coach Kyle Shanahan’s system. The next-best player on the draft board is Alabama interior defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, but with San Francisco’s last two first-round picks coming at a similar position, there are questions about fitting those pieces together efficiently. Instead, San Francisco goes with Allen’s teammate, Foster, to add a three-down presence that will remind fans of Patrick Willis or NaVorro Bowman in their prime. Foster was the nation’s top-graded linebacker, earning a 93.3 overall mark, leading the way against the run at 91.7 and ranking fifth in coverage, at 87.3. With the ability to defeat blocks in the run game and stick with running backs in coverage, Foster’s three-down versatility comes at a time when the league covets it more than ever in an era of spread-heavy offenses.”
However, there has been a recent development that clouds Foster’s draft prospects a bit. As Adam Caplan of NFL.com reported, Foster recently underwent surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder. That surgery will keep Foster from participating in drills at the Scouting Combine and may do the same at Alabama’s Pro Day.
And as Lance Zierlein of NFL.com reports, at least NFC personnel director has concerns about that shoulder. “I’m worried about what his medicals will show because he’s had some issues with stingers during his career,” he said. “I have a higher grade on him than I had on Reggie Ragland. Better pro potential to me.”
Of course, there are hours and hours of tape that shows what a powerful tackler at the point of attack and athletic sideline-to-sideline player that Foster is. Assuming that the shoulder checks out, odds are exceedingly good he won’t last past the end of the first day of the draft.
Whether it’s as a 3-4 inside linebacker or on the weak side of a 4-3 scheme, Foster has the potential to be a three-down player from the moment he steps on an NFL field. And given that potential and the fantasy upside that comes with it, Foster is on the (very) short list to be the first defensive rookie drafted in both redraft and dynasty IDP leagues in 2017.