As unbelievable as it may be now, there was a time when Fred Warner, the San Francisco 49ers‘ two-time All-Pro middle linebacker, wasn’t considered a first-round talent. A middle-of-the-road linebacker with a third-to-fourth-round grade via Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, the selection was declared “a good solid pick” by Mike Mayock but was hardly considered a franchise changer in the same way as actual first-round selections like Roquan Smith, Tremaine Edmunds, or Leighton Vander Esch.
Fortunately, Warner has developed swimmingly as a pro, joining Smith as one of the most decorated linebackers in the NFL. When asked about when he knew Warner was a special talent during his Monday media availability session, Kyle Shanahan pinpointed when he knew John Lynch had selected a star.
“Yeah, Fred is as good of a player as there is in this league,” Shanahan said via 49ers WebZone. His rookie year we knew we had something special with just how he came in and was able to play so much for us and the pressure we put on him calling the defense and how he could handle it as a rookie like he was a 10-year vet. And then the second year is really when he took off and you could see how special he was when he led us to the 8-0 start and the number one defense in the league. And there’s some linebackers like that that you go against in your career that just they’re so good in zone coverages over the middle you always had [former Carolina Panthers LB] Luke Kuechly and [former Dallas Cowboys LB] Sean Lee who were so good at it. You always had [Los Angeles Rams LB] Bobby Wagner and [former Seattle Seahawks LB] K.J. Wright, who were as good as anyone at it. And then you have Fred right there and [LB] Dre [Greenlaw] and [LB] Azeez [Al-Shaair] are coming right along too, but it always started with Fred and he covers a lot of ground over the middle and I know those are usually the guys that the quarterbacks notice the most.”
Without using a single first or even second-round pick, Lynch has drafted three linebackers in Warner, Greenlaw, and Al-Shaair who are starting-caliber contributors on the best defense in the NFL. In a league where finding value in the middle rounds of the draft can be the difference between having a good and a great roster, it’s safe to say Lynch knows a thing or two about drafting linebackers.
Warner Thinks the San Francisco 49ers Brought Their Best Vs. Dallas
After being challenged earlier in the week by Kyle Shanahan, who apparently told the Niners that Dallas might actually have a better defense, Warner was asked if he felt San Francisco brought their best against the Cowboys in Week 20. Unsurprisingly, Warner was quick to complement his guys like a true captain.
“Yeah, it sure felt like us,” Warner said via 49ers WebZone. “That one drive where they went on, I think it was a 12-play drive and scored on us, we kind of broke down in coverage a couple times. They had some third [down] and shorts that they converted, but for the most part it felt like us, man. Obviously we know that we’ve got to play big time football in the playoffs to have a chance to win this next game.”
In the regular season, the 49ers only allowed 1.45 points per drive, according to Pro Football Reference, good for the best mark in the NFL. Against Dallas, the Niners performed even better, giving up just 12 points on 10 Cowboys drives for a fantastic 1.2 points per drive average. Considering the Philadelphia Eagles scored an average of 2.50 points per drive in 2022, it’s safe to say DeMeco Ryans’ offense will have its toughest challenge yet in the NFC Championship game.
Fred Warner is Ready to Face Jalen Hurts in Philadelphia
Turning his attention to the future, Warner was asked if he’s watched the Eagles play over the past few weeks and if he’s ready to take on the challenge in Week 21. After dominating Dallas in Week 20, Warner was ready to embrace the competition.
“The challenge is everything,” Warner said. “Watching from afar, they had a great game yesterday and really took care of business at home. They got another home game and obviously it’s two great football teams going against each other. We’re going to have to watch the tape hard. I think from watching them all season, they have an amazing overall team. Offensively, they have a great offensive line, great play makers and [QB] Jalen Hurts is having an MVP-type season. I respect the way he approaches the game and his mindset. We’ve got a big challenge on our hands for sure.”
A prolifically powerful runner with an underrated arm, Hurts is unlike any quarterback the 49ers have faced this season. Still, after holding things down against mobile quarterbacks like Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, and Justin Fields, the 49ers have the tools in place to take on the challenge head-on, with a do-it-all linebacker like Warner leading the way.