• Travis Rapp

From LB1 to Defender No. 1: How Fred Warner is Growing into the Leader of the 49ers Defense


Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann

 




All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner has been among the leaders of the San Francisco 49ers’ defense since being drafted and earning a starting spot his rookie year. His mental ability and instinct on the field has led his LB partner Dre Greenlaw to call him a defensive coordinator on the field. He earned the right as a rookie to call the plays in the defensive huddle. He is an individual who leads by example. In his first three years in the league he led the 49ers in tackles, averaging 122 per season.


Last year, Warner stepped it up a notch by being the fourth best coverage player (player, not just linebackers) in the NFL. He had the best catch rate allowed below expectations of any player since 2017. Again, any player. Better than Richard Sherman, Stephon Gilmore, or any of the other top cornerbacks or safeties of the last four years. How has he become one of the most dominant defenders in the NFL?


From leading by example.


In October of 2020, in a post-game interview after beating the Los Angeles Rams Warner said, “I hold myself to the highest standard possible each and every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s a game day or in the meetings or in practice, I hold myself to such a high standard. Then, I can hold other people to that, as well.” That has been his attitude and actions since he entered the league as a third-rounder and took the Santa Clara practice field by storm. In that same interview, Warner went on to say, “I’m always going to be myself. Me being three years in the system now, being comfortable around my teammates, I think they can take that criticism, and I can take it back, as well.”


A lot has changed over his first three years in the league. The 49ers’ defense no longer boasts its veteran leaders like DeForest Buckner, who was traded away before the 2020 draft; or Richard Sherman, who is stuck in free agent purgatory. Now Warner finds himself with many pairs of large shoes to fill.

Image Credit: 49ers


Warner can’t be “Uncle Sherm” because, well, he’s only 24. He doesn’t have quite that same boisterous personality that former linebacker teammate Kwon Alexander brought to the defense. But can he be the undisputed leader of the team’s defense?


He already is. Last season, Warner won the 49ers’ Len Eshmont award, which is given to the player who exemplifies the inspirational and courageous play of Eshmont, who was a member of San Francisco’s original 1946 team. He was also given the Bill Walsh Professionalism Award. When Warner signed his big extension this season, general manager John Lynch said, “Fred brings the type of leadership and energy every day that our defense and team feeds off. He earned this extension through hard work, discipline, and the professional way he goes about his business.”


So how does Warner take over the leadership vacated by the likes of Sherman, Buckner, and Alexander? Easy. He just keeps being himself and showing up to work every day. In fact, the void was never there. Warner has been filling it all along.


 

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