Reuben Foster - Alabama Crimson Tide
Position: Inside Linebacker
Hometown: Auburn, AL
Experience: Sr. - 2 year starter
40yd dash: DNP
Broad jump: DNP
20yd. Shuttle: DNP
Bench Press: DNP
In 2013, Reuben Foster was the nation’s consensus No. 1 linebacker coming out of high school and the No. 2 overall recruit in the country. Once Foster landed with Alabama he spent his freshman and sophomore seasons primarily as a reserve middle linebacker and special teams contributor, where he gained a reputation for delivering big hits playing in the kickoff coverage unit.
At the start of his junior season in 2015, Foster made his debut as the team’s full-time starting inside linebacker next to Reggie Ragland. The Alabama native finished second on the team that year in tackles with 73 stops, while also recording eight tackle for loss and nine pass breakups. Foster excelled in pass coverage and frequently remained on the field on third downs. He also had a breakout performance in the college championship game against Clemson, playing an integral part in the Tide’s 45-40 win over the Tigers.
In 2016, Foster took a big step on the field as a senior and became the team’s defensive captain. He played a key part in Alabama becoming the nation’s top run defense, allowing only 63.4 rushing yards per game, and scoring defense, keeping their opponents to a meager 11.8 points per game. To improve his play Foster shed 15 pounds going into his senior year and played around 230. He showed a lot more quickness and athleticism, as well as improved his ability in coverage. He finished the season as the team’s leader in tackles with 115 stops, while also recording 13 tackles for loss and five sacks.
Foster won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker in 2016, while also earning unanimous first-team All-American honors. Now, Foster is preparing for the NFL as the top inside linebacker prospect in the 2017 draft class. Based on his talent alone, he could be a top-15 pick in the draft this April. However, an altercation with a hospital worker in Indianapolis got him dismissed from the NFL Combine, which doesn’t look good for the Alabama prospect. Even though he wasn’t going to participate in drills at the combine because of his shoulder injury, Foster still lost the opportunity to interview with teams and showcase his impressive football IQ. Despite this bump in the road, Foster should still be a lock for the first round.
While Foster escapes college without any significant injuries, he has suffered a few bumps and bruises teams will want to account for when evaluating him. Two concussions on record could be a concern for some teams, given Foster’s position. In 2013, Foster suffered a concussion in preseason camp, and in 2016, he left the game against Arkansas with a concussion. Foster also suffered an upper left arm/shoulder injury in 2015 against Middle Tennessee State, which led him to leave the game early.
Granted, Foster never missed a start since taking over as Alabama’s starting inside linebacker in 2015. Even after suffering concussions and a shoulder injury, he bounced back to be in the lineup the following week. However, despite his proven durability, Foster will undergo shoulder surgery this offseason, which could hurt his draft stock if he doesn’t clear team medical checks. He needs to fix a torn rotator cup, which had been nagging him throughout the 2016 season. He didn’t test in any of the drills at the NFL Combine or the Alabama pro day because of the injury. However, many expect he’ll make a full recovery (four months) and be ready to play by training camp this summer.
Inside Run Defense: 4.5/5.0:
At the snap there may not be a better defender in this class at reading and reacting to the offense. Foster shows excellent anticipation against the run, quickly diagnosing run progressions and attacking his gap to meet the ball carrier at the line of scrimmage. Despite playing at a lighter weight in 2016, Foster still showed all of the functional strength and ability to hold his ground at the point of attack he demonstrated back in 2015 as a 245-pound linebacker. When he meets a back in the hole, Foster shows tremendous power at the collision point, either lowering his shoulder and running the ball carrier over or establishing a strong base by squaring up, showing good knee bend, and stopping the opponent dead in his tracks. Foster is a great A-gap defender, whose quickness and high football IQ allow him to shoot the gap and get ahead of the offense. He made several disruptive plays behind the line of scrimmage. Foster also plays fearless between the tackles and shows an ability to slip blocks, work through the trash, and get his hands on the ball carrier. He could do a little better job using his hands to extend and separate from offensive linemen who have him locked up. At times he surrenders his body position to break through the line and will take himself out of plays.
Outside Run Defense: 5.0/5.0:
Immediately, Foster’s ability to work sideline-to-sideline stands out on tape. He has the speed to quickly get outside the tackle box and track down ball carriers. While Foster does possess top-end physical speed, he also plays fast because of his impressive mental processing. The combination of the two make the former Crimson Tide linebacker a unique talent in this area. He seems to play a step faster than everyone else on the field. He does a fantastic job anticipating what the offense is going to do at the snap and he puts himself in position to make plays. Read option teams struggled to find success against him because of his ability to quickly move to the outside and take on the pitch man. Backs looking to bounce to the outside and turn the corner, struggled to gain an edge on Foster once he sniffed out the play. Foster possesses excellent lateral movement and loose hips, which help him move over the top of the line and work toward the sidelines. Foster also breaks down well in space to make the stop, even against more elusive backs.
Pass Rush: 3.5/5.0:
Foster dropped in coverage more often than not on passing downs. However, this doesn’t mean the former ‘Bama linebacker can’t rush the passer. Foster is an adequate pass-rushing middle linebacker, and while this may not be the strength of his game, he has flashed an ability to time his blitz well and shoot the A-gap to create interior pressure. He does lack the size and length to really win one-on-one against a guard or tackle in pass rushing situations. He also lacks the counter moves to be truly effective in this area of the game. He primarily wins with speed. But, for an inside linebacker, Foster does a decent job creating pressure when called upon to blitz.
Pass Coverage: 4.0/5.0:
Foster is very solid in coverage. He can hold up well dropping in space because he’s such a good athlete. He also possesses the straight-line speed to keep with tight ends down the seam or pick up slot receivers crossing over the middle. He’s a great zone defender when asked to roam the middle of the field and take away intermediate routes. His superb awareness also aids him when keeping the action in front of him. He can quickly drive on the ball when a pass catcher is within his field of vision, or he can pick up a halfback going out for a swing pass in the flat. He is susceptible to double moves if matched alone against a speedy running back out in space.
Athletic Ability: 4.5/5.0:
Foster is a quick-twitch athlete who moves smoothly in space. He possesses electric upfield explosion, which helps him quickly work to the ball. He also shows fantastic lateral movement and ability to change direction. Whether it’s back pedalling in coverage, sidestepping to work over the line, or flipping his hips to turn and run with tight ends downfield, Foster shows tremendous athleticism to be an impact player when roaming the middle of the field. He doesn’t look labored in his movements and his quickness gives him a distinct advantage in reacting against the run. He moves like a safety in space. It is evident in his film that Foster also possesses fantastic straight-line speed for an inside linebacker. Frequently, Foster looks like the fastest player on the field because of both his physical speed and the fact he’s so good at reading and diagnosing plays on the field. This makes him a very effective player in pursuit. He can run down ball carriers from the backside or chase down players downfield to minimize big plays. This ability separates Foster from the rest of the crop of highly talented inside linebackers in this draft class.
Impact Play Ability: 5.0/5.0:
Foster impacts the game in a variety of ways. Consistently, he was Alabama’s most active defender in 2016, particularly against the run. 115 stops and 13 tackles for loss reflect his ability to be a disruptive player behind and near the line of scrimmage. Simply put, Foster is a tone setter on defense. He plays with incredible hustle and motor, while also bringing a physical presence to the middle of the field. In the past two seasons as a starter, Foster also recorded six sacks, 11 hurries, and an impressive 11 pass breakups. Foster finds ways to impact the game regardless if it’s as a run defender or against the pass. He was the leader of the nation’s top defense in 2016.
Summary: At the next level, Foster is a true three-down inside linebacker. He holds up well in every phase of the game and he brings a passion and energy to the field as an imposing presence in the middle of the defense. He’s also a natural leader and a guy that teammates can rally around. If he clears all of the pre-draft medical checks, Foster is easily a top-15 player in the draft and one of the more rare linebacking talents to come out of college in recent memory. He should make an immediate impact in the NFL for whoever drafts him this spring.
Overall Grade: 4.42/5.0
If drafted by the Packers:
The only way the Packers will get a shot at selecting Foster at the end of the first round is if Foster’s recovering from his shoulder injury gives several teams pause about selecting him with their first pick. If he somehow landed with Green Bay this spring, he’d immediately upgrade their front seven. He’d give them an enforcer in the middle of the defense--something they’ve been lacking since Desmond Bishop.
The Packers would also finally have a linebacker who can hold up consistently in coverage, while also remaining on the field on running downs. The Packers haven’t had an impact player at inside linebacker for some time now, and Foster would be a game changer for them. His ability to drop in coverage, rush the passer as an interior blitzer, or roam the middle of the field to make stops, would allow Dom Capers to use Foster creatively.
The former Alabama linebacker also has the ability to make the players around him better. Because he can run sideline-to-sideline and make plays, the Packers outside linebackers would have a safety net if they lose contain. And, Capers may feel less inclined to bring a safety up in the box against the run because of Foster’s ability to cover so much ground. He could also stay on the field in nickel and dime packages and hold his own when covering the middle of the field.
From his elite athleticism and speed to his impressive football IQ and toughness, Foster is a complete player and would immediately upgrade the Packers linebacking corps. His presence would alleviate pressure from young inside linebackers Jake Ryan, Blake Martinez, and Joe Thomas. The three of them could carve out a specific role for themselves on defense that best suits the strengths of their games, while Foster remained the cornerstone at the position.
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