The San Francisco 49ers have expectations to make the playoffs in 2018 and rightfully so, with the arrival of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. However, the Forty-Niners will need more than just Jimmy G to make a run at the playoffs in 2018. And that’s why Niners Live tells the Faithful: Why Malcolm Smith and Reuben Foster will be a deadly tandem in 2018.
Smith, a key free agent never got to see the field
Malcolm Smith signed a five-year, $26.5 million contract with the 49ers, including $12 million guaranteed and a $7 million signing bonus. In each year of the contract, there are per game roster bonuses. The 2020 and 2021 years are both option years (via overthecap.com). Unfortunately, before the 2017 season started, Smith went down for the season in an open practice for the fans which I attended, and the injury (torn biceps), happened right in front of me.
In camp, prior to his injury, Smith was the man with the plan (knowing the 4-3 under scheme of DC Robert Saleh) and his game, talent, speed and abilities were flashing more often than anyone in OTA’s (via Sacbee.com).
What Smith brings to the table and the responsibilities of a “WILL” LB
Smith possesses, as previously mentioned, the speed (4.44 coming out of college), a high football IQ, the ability to make plays in space, and to properly shoot and fill gaps, which bodes well for (Mr. Foster and the 49ers’ defense) when reading and reacting to run and pass plays. Smith, per Pro Football Focus, rated out at a 74.8 against the run in 2016. Foster will move to the Middle “Mike” LB position and Smith will play alongside him at the Will Weak side LB position as seen below.
The (Will) Linebacker:
- Must showcase the ability of great instincts, read/react with extreme athleticism and speed to match, while operating at a high level
- High productivity is imperative to the success of the unit. A player can look good on paper and have all of the measurables and attributes, however, if he’s not highly productive and doesn’t make a lot of plays, guess what? This position isn’t going to work for you
- The need for speed and speed kills. This position should improve team speed and be a key contributor on special teams. Simply put, the ideal (Will) backer needs to have speed and the ability to cover in the flat and in general (paging speedster Mr. Smith).
What Foster brings to the table and the responsibilities of a “Mike” LB
Reuben Foster has the skill set and physicality to control and shut down the middle for the Mike linebacker position. And the lateral quickness to go sideline-to-sideline and stop ball carriers dead in their tracks. As a rookie, Foster missed six games due to an ankle injury. The 10 games he did play, and start, all he did was win defensive rookie of the month (via the team’s website). And post 72 total tackles, 59 being solo, one pass defended, six tackles for losses and seven no gain stuffs at the line of scrimmage (via ESPN.com).
Interesting to note: Foster also posted a PFF overall grade of 90.7, run def 90.9, coverage 82.7, pass rush and 68.0 on 553 total snaps. Foster has the 4th best overall grade of all LB’s. He also earned a positive grade on a league-leading 19.7 percent of his plays against the run, which is almost double the league average.
The (Mike) Linebacker:
- Having strong leadership skills are a must for this job requirement
- Having high football I.Q. and understanding his surroundings must also be on his resume in camp, team meetings, the huddle, pre-season, on game day, and more
- Has to be good in zone coverage, no doubt
- This position needs a rare breed with unique perspectives and instincts.
- Strong tackler, impact player, and hard hitter (Foster, aka “The Ferrari”
Why Malcolm Smith and Reuben Foster will be a deadly tandem in 2018
If both of these players can stay healthy for a full season, they can be a handful (looking at their player breakdowns as seen above) for opposing offenses to deal with in 2018. Smith is a former Super Bowl MVP that has averaged over 100 tackles the last two years prior to signing with the 49ers. And has six sacks with four interceptions in his 7-year career. Foster and Smith will give the 49ers the fastest and most explosive linebacking tandem on the team since Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.
With Reuben Foster expected to improve his tackling technique and strength in the offseason and having the opportunity to get better acquainted with the defense and the Mike position from a play-calling standpoint; his second season could very well net a Pro Bowl invitation. With Smith and the potential return of LB Brock Coyle providing veteran leadership to Foster, this tandem could be deadly in 2018.
Please join us again soon on Niners Live, the home of the faithful fan and analyst from an objective/analytical lens, of course. Often imitated, but never duplicated.
All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus, 49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author, Content Creator, Editor, Sequoia Sims.