Fred Warner has proven to be a versatile middle linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers through his first three NFL seasons.
Whether he’s asked to captain the defense, stop the run or transition into pass coverage, the former BYU football star is becoming a well-known name among NFL circles.
How well-known? Pro Football Focus believes that Warner is the NFL’s best player under the age of 25, putting him at No. 1 in their recent rankings of the league’s top players under 25 heading into the 2021 season.
“Warner has become arguably the game’s best linebacker, a position that has become ever-more difficult to play given how good NFL offenses have become at attacking defensive weaknesses,” PFF’s Sam Monson wrote of Warner, who will turn 25 in November. “The former third-round pick earned a PFF coverage grade of 91.1 in 2020, allowing a passer rating of just 81.9 into his coverage, some 25 points lower than the average at the position.”
Warner is coming off his most successful season as a pro, earning first-team NFL All-Pro honors while anchoring the 49ers defense. The fourth-year pro Warner, who is due a big payday heading into a contract year, had a career-best 118 tackles last season to go along with six pass deflections, two interceptions, a sack, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.
Warner rates just ahead of several prominent NFL players, including one of his defensive teammates and the 2019 league MVP, with the top five including:
- No. 2, Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson
- No. 3, Tennessee Titans WR A.J. Brown
- No. 4, San Francisco EDGE Nick Bosa
- No. 5, Green Bay Packers CB Jaire Alexander
Jackson was named the NFL MVP in 2019 and has quickly become one of the league’s most electric young quarterback talents. His dip in touchdown percentage and uptick in turnover-worthy play rate from his second to third seasons were the only negatives Monson noted, saying, “Jackson is still a dynamic playmaker who likely splits the difference between those two seasons (his 2019 NFL year and the 2020 season) in 2021.”
Bosa, meanwhile, has only played one full season with Warner after Bosa tore his ACL in the 49ers’ second game last season. The 2019 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year was drafted by San Francisco one year after the 49ers took Warner in the third round of the 2018 draft.
Warner is one of two linebackers on this list — the other is the Chicago Bears’ Roquan Smith at No. 16 — and the list includes 15 offensive players and 10 from the defensive side.