Fred Warner may have been the San Francisco 49ers most popular pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. The 49ers used a third-round selection (70th overall) to grab the BYU linebacker.
That's because Warner brings with him a versatile skill set and an intriguing athletic profile. He's got 32-inch arms and ran a 4.64 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. That's an impressive time for a 6-foot-3, 236-pound linebacker.
"You got a gem there," BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said on the 49ers Studios Podcast. "He's one of the best players that I've ever been around – not just with talent but the overall package. He gets it. He loves football. He's worked extremely hard to get to the level he's at. He's a great teammate. I could go on and on about him."
Warner posted 87 total tackles in 2017 with nine tackles for loss, one sack and one interception. He was named BYU's team MVP at season's end. But Warner wasn't used as a traditional linebacker in college. Sitake deployed him at a spot called "the Flash" – a position designed to take advantage of Warner's athleticism.
It was designed as a hybrid role that mixed the responsibilities of a linebacker, safety and nickel corner.
"He's a big kid, but he can run like a safety," Sitake said. "We asked him to play outside the box and cover a lot of slot receivers. He handled them just fine, and we played some great teams with a lot of speed."
San Francisco is expected to use Warner at MIKE or WILL, two positions Kyle Shanahan refers to as interchangeable. The big difference at MIKE is being tasked with organizing the defense and relaying the play call on the field.
That's where Warner's football IQ comes into play. After a defensive series, Sitake would go to Warner before speaking with the coaches in the booth. The linebacker would be able to diagnose in real time what went right or wrong without having to use the aid of print outs on the sideline. Warner knew where all 11 players were supposed to be which made the cause of any breakdown very obvious.
I spoke with one 49ers coach who raved about the linebacker's intelligence. That coach was confident in Warner's capacity to take on as much responsibility as the 49ers want to throw his way.
"The ceiling is way up there," Sitake said. "He still hasn't scratched the surface in terms of his potential. I think the San Francisco 49ers are going to get him in the right position. He's going to make a lot of plays. He will be a great general on the field for that defense."
Warner's character appears to be off the charts as well. Sitake noted that Warner graduated from BYU in 3.5 years and was a constant ambassador for the school's football program.
"He set the standard for everyone," Sitake said. "He did it academically. He did it off the field in how he lives his life. And then he does it on the football field. He covered every aspect that you want in a student athlete."
Just listening to Sitake's voice made it evident that the coach reveres Warner in the highest regard. His confidence in Warner is unwavering, and he's eager to see the linebacker prove his worth in the NFL.
"He's as real as it gets. He's a genuine person. Our fans love him. He's never been about himself," Sitake said. "When good people get what they deserve, you can't help but be happy for them. That's where I'm at right now."