The 2017 NFL Draft produced possibly the next great linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers in Reuben Foster. After showing promise in his injury-plagued rookie year, he was suspended for the first two games of the 2018 season for off-the-field issues.
The 49ers have a lot of expectations for the upcoming season and losing possibly their best player on defense for two games is a huge blow to start the year.
There are a couple of options the 49ers have to hold down the middle linebacker spot until Foster returns. While these individuals do not compare to Foster’s playmaking ability, each offers traits the 49ers desire in their players. No matter who the 49ers select as Foster’s short-term replacement, it will take a team effort to ensure the defense does not lack in productivity over the course of those first two games.
Good teams have good depth. When a starter goes down, it is up to his backup step in and perform adequately. A season can crumble if a team it does not have depth at key positions. This situation will shine a light on how effective 49ers personnel is at linebacker.
Coyle may be the most logical choice as he started 10 games last season in Foster’s place. He has filled in at middle linebacker for injured starters since his rookie year in 2014 with the Seattle Seahawks. He had his best year in 2017 with 64 tackles, half a sack, and a forced fumble. With these statistics, he has proven his ability to take on the responsibility of replacing Foster.
While he typically plays weakside linebacker, he should be agile enough to momentarily transition to middle linebacker. He made himself known by intercepting Peyton Manning and returning it for a touchdown in the Super Bowl when he played for the Seattle Seahawks. For his efforts in that game, he was named Super Bowl MVP.
He is coming off an injury-marred 2017 season and has yet to play a down for the 49ers in the regular season. He had 86 tackles, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and an interception in 2016. His versatility could prove to be a huge asset for the 49ers while they are without Foster.
The third round pick was all over the field in his senior year at BYU. In 2017, he had 87 tackles, one sack, one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. While he looks to get more reps at outside linebacker, the 49ers could use his versatility in place of Foster. This is a prime opportunity for him to prove his worth in the NFL by showing his knowledge of the defense and his physical tools. He could prove to be the steal of the draft for the 49ers.
The journeyman linebacker looks to be ready for a larger role on an NFL team. With his fourth team in three years, Toomer finally got his chance with the Chargers in 2016. While his numbers slipped in 2017, he did have an interception returned for a touchdown.
He has shown his ability to be a good all-around player who will not stop working. He can bring a tough, underdog attitude to a defense which is a few additions away from being considered elite.
He has minimal experience in the NFL and is generally on the practice squad or special teams. However, he was a three-time Academic All-Mountain West in college and should prove to be a quick learner if given the opportunity.