Fred Warner recently was rewarded with a hefty contract extension from the 49ers, and NFL Network's Bucky Brooks believes the 24-year-old is one of the best of a new breed of linebackers in the NFL.
Brooks, a former longtime NFL player and scout, ranks Warner third among the league's best "off-ball" linebackers.
"While there is still a place in the league for the downhill linebacker as a situational player, the football world covets second-level defenders who can stop the run, rush the passer and pick off passes in space. These 'three-way' players come in different packages than their predecessors, with speed and athleticism valued at a premium over size and strength, but their overall explosiveness enables them to thrive as sideline-to-sideline roamers," Brooks writes explaining the concept of an "off-ball" linebacker.
Warner comes in third, behind Seattle Seahawks star Bobby Wager and Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard, on Brooks' list. After Warner, fellow up-and-coming stars Devin White and Roquan Smith round out the top five.
As the NFL has changed to become such a pass-friendly league, the need for linebackers that can cover large stretches of the field and not only plug up holes in the run game but keep up with lightning-quick running backs and wide receivers has grown each year.
Not only has Warner topped 115 combined tackles in each of his three NFL seasons, but he has six or more pass deflections in each campaign.
Brooks also believes Warner isn't far from being near the top of this list.
"As a crafty ballhawk with outstanding instincts and awareness, the 49ers' designated disruptor is quickly challenging his fellow all-stars for the top spot on the list," Brooks writes.