2017 NFL draft prospect countdown, No. 2: Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama

Tuesday April 18th, 2017

The 2016 Butkus Award winner for the nation’s top linebacker and a first-team All-American, Foster racked up 115 tackles last season, good for second-most in the SEC behind only Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham (125). Thirteen of those Foster tackles were for loss, and he also turned in 5.0 sacks. His senior-season performance more than doubled his career tackles total—he finished with 222. Of those, 188 came during the 2014-15 seasons combined, after Foster nailed down a starting spot in the Alabama lineup. He set his single-game career high for tackles (12) in this past season’s national championship vs. Clemson.

Foster was the nation’s top-ranked inside linebacker during the 2013 recruiting cycle and he took Alabama and Auburn fans on a whirlwind trip—he committed to Alabama, then changed that commitment to Auburn, before ultimately signing with the Tide.

Strengths: What more could a team want in a linebacker? Foster was a dynamic, tone-setting presence in the middle of Alabama’s defense, and his speed/strength combo should translate well to the pros.

Nothing about Foster’s game is hesitant. When he makes a read, he trusts it, and then drives toward his target with maximum velocity. He has the range to be a chase-and-tackle defender working sideline to sideline, but he might be even better when he can spot a gap and fire downhill. Every hit of his has the potential to land on the highlight reel.

What really ought to endear him to NFL talent evaluators is that he is not just a run-stuffing defender. Often, bulked-up, hard-hitting middle linebackers are limited in what they can do against the pass, or when teams spread the field. That’s not the case with Foster, who is physical enough to body up against tight ends but really makes headway vs. the pass because of how locked in he stays on the quarterback.

Foster checked in at the combine at 6' 0", 229 lbs.; Alabama listed him an inch and about a dozen pounds heavier than that. There’s nothing he can do about the height, but there is room on his frame to be in the 235 range, comfortably.

He projects across all schemes, and at multiple spots—he could be an ILB in a 3–4, or an MLB or weak-side defender in a 4–3. There should be no hesitation with regard to fit for any team considering him in the draft.

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Weaknesses: There is the shoulder issue. And the combine incident.

On the former, Foster required rotator cuff surgery following Alabama’s season, so he could not work out at the combine or Alabama’s pro day. There were mixed reviews out of the NFL’s medical recheck, too—a report surfaced stating that Foster’s shoulder still is not healed and could require a second surgery; Foster’s agent, Malki Kawa, quickly denied it and claimed that Foster was “ahead of schedule” and on track for training camp. Foster’s health will be a topic of conversation regardless, if for no other reason than how physical his playing style is.

As for the combine incident, Foster was sent home early after a spat with a hospital worker during his medical checks. He met with teams during Alabama’s pro day in an attempt to clear the air.

“If you’re looking for a good teammate to be on your team, Reuben’s going to be very, very good,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said, via CBSSports. “If you’re looking for somebody to be a candy striper and be nice to everybody at the hospital, maybe not.”

The on-field product is darn near complete. Will the other potential red flags drop Foster down Round 1?

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