Can buckle an offensive lineman with speed to power
Good pass-coverage linebacker
Impressive man-coverage ability vs. tight ends and running backs
Can drop into zone coverage
Tough run defender
Fits a 4-3 or 3-4 defense
Fits perfectly as a Will
Quick to the flat
Special teams contributor
Instincts are consistent
Has some off-the-field concerns
Will require some off-the-field maintenance
Injury issues early in his career
Had shoulder surgery in 2017
Struggled with the mental side of the game for years
Summary: Alabama has been a factory of NFL talent, especially at the inside linebacker position. In recent years, Dont'a Hightower, C.J. Mosley and Reggie Ragland were stars of the Crimson Tide defense who led to an Alabama dynasty over the past decade. All three of those linebackers were early round picks, and Foster will continue that tradition this year.
Early in his career, Foster dealt with some injuries, so it took time for him to earn an every-down role for Alabama. He had a total of 34 tackles in his first two years while starring on special teams before earning at starting role as a junior. In 2015, Foster racked up 73 tackles with eight for a loss, two sacks and nine passes broken up. He wasn't all that impressive as a junior, but the switch was flipped before the National Championship game as he had a huge night to help Alabama beat Clemson.
Foster took his game to another level in 2016. The senior totaled 115 tackles with 13 tackles for a loss, five sacks and two passes broken up. He was a very physical defender for Alabama.
In the ground game, Foster is all over the field as a run defender when he doesn't have to take on blocks. Foster flies around the field and dishes out some big hits on ball-carriers. Not only does Foster explode into the backfield, he flies to the sideline, and throws his body around at the line of scrimmage. In terms of taking on blocks, Foster is hit or miss. He comes downhill hard into blocks, sometimes blasting the blocker out of the play, while other times Foster gets locked up. In the NFL, Foster will have a harder time getting off blocks, so playing outside linebacker and using his speed to run and chase would be better for him than being a middle linebacker. Overall, Foster is a good tackler. There is no doubt that he is a violent defender who hits with authority and is a physical force.
Foster shows skills in the passing game and is a dangerous blitzer. In the short to intermediate zone, he does well at picking up receivers and also has shown some ball skills. As a professional, Foster could be an asset as a linebacker weapon to neutralize receiving threat tight ends and running backs in man-to-man coverage. He also flashed an impressive ability to run with tight ends down the seam and prevent separation. Foster should be a true three-down defender in the NFL.
Sources across the league like Foster, but maybe not as high as some project in the top five. One scout said, "Reuben is Chris Claiborne (old USC linebacker) all over again. The explosive plays are tantalizing but there's a lot of concerning issues there. I didn't see enough of a production and physical talent gap between a healthy Jarrad Davis and Foster to leap Foster over Davis in my grade. Davis is much less of a concern off the field, instinctively, and playing hurt. Reuben runs full speed into blocks and it's either he blasts the guy or gets swallowed up. Davis showed violent, efficient hands to shed and still make the play inline and out. Reuben needs a specific scheme to run and hit."
"I'm not hearing everyone is sold on Reuben. He is a bit of a one-year wonder. He struggled bad with the mental part in his early years. Physically, he showed out as a senior because he was protected by good talent, including special players like Jonathan Allen and Da'Ron Payne. They kept him free to scrape and go. There's a lot of "boom or bust" concern and I know for a fact that a bunch of squads grade Jarrad Davis ahead of Reuben for that reason. Plus Davis has always played banged up while Reuben had concerning injuries earlier in career that held him back. Davis is also less maintenance off the field."
In the NFL, Foster has three-down starting potential quickly. Being a run-and-chase Will (weakside) linebacker in a 3-4 defense would be a great fit for him. In a 4-3 defense, he could be a Will (weakside) linebacker. Foster should go in the top 25 on the 2017 NFL Draft and could even crack the top 10.
Player Comparison: Thomas Davis/Chris Claiborne. I chose two comparisons for Foster. One for a player of him panning out and one being a bust. For the bust comparison, some team scouts have compared Foster to Claiborne. He was a great athlete who never lived up to the hype coming out of USC. If Foster turns into a good NFL player, I could see him being like Davis as a fast linebacker who can cover, defend the run, and be a physical presence. Claiborne - ninth overall - and Davis - 14th overall- went in the top half of the first round of their draft classes. Foster could go in that range.
NFL Matches: Cincinnati, Arizona, Indianapolis, Denver, Miami, Detroit, New York Giants, Houston, Oakland and Kansas City
There are a lot of teams that could consider drafting Foster in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. The Bengals could use more linebacker talent next to Vontaze Burfict, and Foster could be a fit for them with the ninth-overall pick. At No. 13, the Cardinals need to improve their middle linebacker talent after moving on from Kevin Minter.
The Colts need a linebacker upgrade, and Foster would be a good fit for them in the middle of the first round.
In the AFC West, Denver have needed use a linebacker upgrade ever since losing Danny Trevathan a year ago. The Raiders have a huge need at middle linebacker as the interior of their defense was shredded last year. Foster would be an instant upgrade. If he slides, Kansas City also could consider Foster as the heir apparent to Derrick Johnson.
Miami had a big need at linebacker entering the offseason, and even after free agency, the Dolphins could consider Foster in the first round. The Lions could use more linebacker talent. Foster would be a nice fit for Detroit in Round 1.
The Texans need a linebacker upgrade next to Bernardrick McKinney as Brian Cushing has become a liability on the field. Foster would be a great fit for what Houston needs and an immediate upgrade over Cushing.