"75 for 75" is an article series from the 49ers Museum highlighting legendary moments in 49ers history as part of the team's 75th Anniversary celebrations in 2021.
After three NFL seasons and 51 starts at linebacker, Fred Warner finally got the recognition he deserved. The 49ers linebacker capped the 2020 campaign with his first All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections while earning two of the franchise's most prestigious awards.
"Fred played at a Pro Bowl and All-Pro level last year (2019)," head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "I think he got rewarded for that this year (2020), but his game still took a step forward. It's cool to watch a guy who, we talk about being deliberate in everything you do and not just going to the meeting, but like really getting stuff out of it. Fred is so deliberate in everything he does."
Warner finished his breakout season in spectacular fashion. In Week 16, he was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week after recording a career-high 14 tackles, three passes defended and a fumble recovery in a win over the Arizona Cardinals.
The following week, Warner posted a game-high 10 tackles against Seattle, including a clutch 11-yard sack of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. He completed the 2020 campaign with a team-leading 101 tackles, two interceptions and one fumble recovery.
"Middle linebacker is one of the toughest positions to come in and play," said former teammate Richard Sherman. "Fred has a big upside and he's going to get better and better."
Warner's teammates and coaches took notice. He earned the Len Eshmont Award, as voted on by the players, for exemplifying the inspirational and courageous play of one of the original members of the 1946 49ers team.
The coaching staff selected Warner for the Bill Walsh Award, given to the player who best represents the professional excellence established by the 49ers legendary head coach. The recipient is generally recognized as the team's most valuable player.
"Fred's had people who have helped him, but that guy is self-made," Shanahan said of his third-round pick (70th overall) from BYU in the 2018 NFL Draft. "It's his mindset and work ethic and how he lives his life every day. That's why he continues to get better."
Warner, the defensive signal-caller with an encyclopedic understanding of the playbook, has anchored the 49ers defense since his 2018 rookie campaign. In 2019, he helped turn the defensive unit into an NFL terror allowing the second-fewest yards in the league as they bulldozed their way to the Super Bowl. That level continued in 2020 as they allowed the fifth-fewest defensive yards.
Warner's sheer presence makes his teammates better by creating pass-rushing lanes and turnover opportunities.
"Fred brings the type of leadership and energy every day that our defense and team feeds off," said 49ers general manager and Pro Football Hall of Fame safety John Lynch.