Why the Slide?: Reuben Foster

By Charlie Campbell, @draftcampbell

Three years ago, we started a series of articles on why certain prospects went undrafted. In that series, I reach out to sources with NFL teams to find out why their organizations passed on drafting a given player, and/or, what were the reasons for other teams to pass on that prospect. We got a lot of positive reader feedback about the series, so we decided to expand in the genre to investigate why some prospects slid in the draft. A year later, we started the Why Slide? series, and this year, it is back. Feel free to email me requests for “Why the Slide?” and “Why Undrafted?” at [email protected]. I can’t promise to get to all of them, but I will do my best and definitely respond.

During the leadup to the 2017 NFL Draft, there was a lot of attention and hype around Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster. He had an excellent senior year and was the consensus-top non-pass-rushing linebacker in the draft. However, Foster’s draft stock was up and down with the illustration of off-the-field concerns when Foster was sent home early from the combine after an argument with a medical staffer during the medical exam. Some draft analysts compared Foster to Luke Kuechly, and thought he was the best inside linebacker prospect to come into the league since Kuechly. Additionally, teams thought Foster was a potential top-10 athlete. However in the 2017 NFL Draft, Foster slid all the way to pick No. 31 before being selected.

Sources say there were a few reasons why Foster slid. One was the medical concern with a bad shoulder that some teams had some serious concerns with. Teams did have off-the-field concerns about Foster and thought he might need a lot of personal management in the NFL. Overall though, the physical nature of the game and Foster’s durability concerns sound like they were the biggest weights that caused him to fall in the draft. Here’s how one team executive put it, “Reuben dropped because teams feared he would hit himself out of the league by the end of his first contract. That dropped him more than anything else.”

The San Francisco 49ers traded back into the first round from pick No. 32 to land Foster with the 31st-overall pick. The 49ers are a good landing spot as Foster will be a plug-and-play player for them. Last year. they had one of the worst defenses in the NFL, and Foster will serve as an immediate upgrade to their run defense. Foster fits perfectly as a Will (weakside) linebacker in San Francisco’s switch to the 4-3, and he also could be a Mike (middle) linebacker.

Foster will be a really good pick for the 49ers if he can stay healthy, but that is a big ‘if’ entering his rookie season. There already is speculation that he could miss his rookie season because he might need another shoulder surgery. 49ers general manager John Lynch might be able to help give Foster some tips on staying healthy as Lynch had a long career despite being one of the most physical hitters in the NFL. Many thought a neck injury would end Lynch’s career with Tampa Bay, but he went on to make more Pro Bowls playing for the Denver Broncos. Foster is a very gifted athlete, but he will have to stay on the field in order to prove wrong all the teams that passed on him.

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