Through two games, we’ve hardly talked about 49ers linebacker Fred Warner. It’s almost as if we’re taking for granted how great of a player he is. Or, we’ve normalized Warner being awesome, so we shrug it off.
Warner has 18 tackles and is playing more physical than ever. After a missed tackle against the Eagles, Warner was as locked in as I’ve seen him. From there, he was lights out.
Warner’s teammates are noticing. Newcomer Josh Norman played with a stud linebacker for four seasons in Carolina. Norman was asked if there are any similarities between Luke Kuechly and Warner:
“Oh yeah, there are similarities. It’s crazy because I’m kind of seeing it from two different lenses in a sense, just playing with Luke for all those years and then coming out and playing with Fred.
Just by listening, you can tell Warner’s voice echoes through the front and the back end. What he’s calling, he automatically knows what’s going on. He shows up, he shows up with a vengeance. He’s getting to the point where he’s starting to read where people are going to be.
The thing that made Luke what he was — he had a knack for the game. It’s almost like he was an offensive coordinator playing linebacker, in a sense. He knew where the play was at before play even got started. He was already there, and those bulls up front were moving so nobody was able to touch him. And Fred has that here.”
When you’re watching the 49ers defense Sunday, watch Warner for a series. You can see his communication before and during the play. He gets everyone lined up, makes the necessary checks when the offense motions, and, of course, makes the play himself more often than not.
Kuechly was an outstanding linebacker, and the fact that Norman can see some of Kuechly’s game in Warner is terrific. There are times during the game where Warner runs the route for the receiver. Other times, he’s not fooled by motion or play-action and takes away a route that causes the quarterback to hold the ball, which leads to a sack.
Warner’s direct impact on the game goes well beyond the box score. He’s a top-10 coverage player, not just linebacker, in the NFL. The scary part — at least for the rest of the NFL — is that Warner is just scratching the surface.
Norman acknowledged as much: “He’s elevating. He’s still on that path to getting to that point. You haven’t seen the best of Fred Warner yet, I’m telling you. The sky’s the limit for the guy. It really is.”