Fred Warner is still on his rookie contract with the San Francisco 49ers, but he is already getting respect as the best young player in the NFL.
Pro Football Focus recently took a look at the best players in the league under 25 years of age, both on offense and defense. When the dust settled, the experts at PFF had chosen Warner as the best of the bunch. But the praise did not stop there.
PFF went on to argue that Warner might be the best linebacker in all of professional football considering the evolution of the position in the context of NFL offenses become more and more dominant and sophisticated.
“Warner has become arguably the game’s best linebacker, a position that has become ever-more difficult to play given how good NFL offenses have become at attacking defensive weaknesses,” author Sam Monson wrote in his article, which was published on June 15, 2021. “The former third-round pick earned a PFF coverage grade of 91.1 in 2020, allowing a passer rating of just 81.9 into his coverage, some 25 points lower than the average at the position.”
Warner Has Strong Argument as Best Linebacker in NFL
Perhaps Warner’s best attribute is one that many fans and analysts overlook when ranking players by position — availability.
Warner has played three seasons in the NFL. He has started all 48 regular season games for the Niners over that span, displaying a level of durability that is rare in the NFL, particularly at the linebacker position.
The outside linebacker, who stands at 6-feet, 3-inches tall and weighs in at 236 pounds, is not only great in pass coverage but is also elite at swarming the ball and making tackles in the open field. Warner has tallied 367 tackles in his first three seasons, along with 15 for loss and 14 quarterback hits.
Warner has also totaled five forced fumbles, four sacks, three fumble recoveries and three interceptions, along with 21 passes defended. He has scored one defensive touchdown, per Pro Football Reference.
Warners Isn’t the Only 49ers Player on PFF’s Top 25 Under 25 List
The 49ers rode their young defense to a Super Bowl berth in 2019 and as time passes, it is easy to see how.
San Francisco’s performance fell off precipitously in 2020, but a major reason for that was injury, particularly to the defense. Pass rusher Dee Ford missed 15 games and fellow defensive frontman Nick Bosa, another member of PFF’s Top 25 Under 25 in the NFL, tore his ACL in Week 2 against the New York Jets.
The timeline of Ford’s return remains up in the air, but Bosa is expected to join Warner in the starting lineup for the Niners’ regular season opener in Detroit against the Lions on Sept. 12. That combination is downright terrifying for defenses, according to PFF analysis.
“We have only seen one year of Nick Bosa in the NFL, with injury robbing us of an encore last season,” Monson wrote. “Still, that one year was devastating. Bosa notched 80 total pressures as a rookie, breaking the PFF rookie record. He was still cooking by the Super Bowl, too, where he notched 12 pressures in a losing effort to try and contain Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.”
Bosa was ranked No. 4 on Monson’s list, just three spots behind Warner in first. Injury is a cruel and ever-present mistress in the NFL but if both players can stay healthy, the Niners could have not only one of the youngest defensive corps in the league, but arguably the best.