It didn't take long for Reuben Foster to show us that he's a special football player. Despite playing just 10 games in 2017, he finished the year second on the team with 72 tackles and was even named the league's rookie of the month in November. That's why it comes as no surprise to see the San Francisco 49ers linebacker's name on ESPN's all-under-25 starting lineup.
ESPN polled 43 of its NFL insiders to determine the league's most prominent young stars.
"Foster's NFL career is young, but what already stood out was his feel for finding the football," read the blurb about Foster. "The 24-year-old must stay healthy and will serve a two-game suspension to begin the season, but he could emerge as San Francisco's best defensive player."
Foster will make his return to game action during a Week 3 road game against the Kansas City Chiefs. As ESPN noted, Foster's health will remain a top priority this season. The linebacker suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 1 and was ailed by several shoulder stingers throughout last season. Improved strength, conditioning and tackling technique will help Foster better absorb contact. That's crucial for a linebacker who likes to throw his body around and deliver big hits.
One notable omission from ESPN's lineup was DeForest Buckner. The 24-year-old defensive lineman was neither a starter nor a runner-up for ESPN. Instead, Sheldon Rankins of the New Orleans Saints (starter), Leonard Williams of the New York Jets (starter) and Jonathan Allen of the Washington Redskins (runner-up) were selected as the interior defensive linemen. Add that to the list of recent slights for Buckner, who was a Pro Bowl snub last season and was also left off of NFL Network's top 100 player rankings. That should change this season if San Francisco takes its expected step forward.
The 49ers defense will largely go as Foster and Buckner go in 2018. Those are arguably the team's top two defensive building blocks moving forward.