NFL Draft

2018 NFL Draft Player Profiles: BYU LB Fred Warner

From now until the 2018 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a several others will be top-ranked players at their positions. If there is a player you would like us to breakdown and profile in the coming weeks and months, let us know in the comments below.

Today, we’re checking out BYU linebacker Fred Warner.

#4 Fred Warner/LB BYU — 6’3/4. 235

The Good

– Great build and athleticism for position
– Balanced, fluid mover with noticeable lower body explosion
– Physical striker who consistently wraps his arms up at tackle point
– Comfortable dropping into space as a cover linebacker
– Diagnoses plays in front of him quickly, wastes very little movement
– Long strider that covers a ton of ground quickly
– Possesses the agility and length to harass the quarterback in coverage or on the rush
– Moved to in-line linebacker at Senior Bowl and quickly picked up nuances of position

The Bad

– Struggles to work off of blocks at times in traffic
– Keeps eyes locked into backfield, allowing blockers to reach him at second level
– Not overly physical at point of attack against blockers; would rather slip underneath/around blocks
– Takes questionable angles at times when working through traffic to reach ball carrier

Bio

– Played in 49 career games for Cougars over four years
– Recorded 264 career tackles, 31.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and 7 interceptions for his career at BYU
– Former four-star prospect that was recruited heavily by Power 5 programs such as Southern California
– No. 25 prospect in state of California prior to committing to BYU

Tape Breakdown

As I’m sure you’ve heard since the Senior Bowl in Mobile, BYU’s Fred Warner is generating a ton of buzz as we inch closer to the NFL Combine and the NFL Draft.

While at BYU, Warner was more of a coverage linebacker due to his length and ball skills (seven career interceptions), but once Warner showed up in Mobile, the coaching staff pushed him closer to the line of scrimmage as a WILL linebacker. He thrived, showcasing great ability to diagnose plays in front of him, as well as impressive sideline-to-sideline range and athleticism.

When diving into his BYU tape, it’s quite clear he’s not an EDGE in the NFL, nor is he a linebacker that lives around the line of scrimmage. He’s a matchup linebacker that brings coverage ability to the defense, as well as some serious athleticism to a position that seems to be getting more and more athletic as the game of football progresses towards spacing and speed.

He doesn’t appear to be a twitchy linebacker, at least in his build, but he’s a long strider that closes a ton of ground quickly when he plants his foot and bursts towards the ball.

Look at the way Warner flies forward towards Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon during the 2016 season. By closing the gap between himself and Solomon as quickly as he does, Warner forces the Wildcats’ quarterback to get of the ball quicker than he wants to, resulting in an interception in the end zone on the 2-point try.

As I mentioned earlier, Warner is a linebacker that is very comfortable dropping into coverage. He did it a ton at BYU, resulting in those seven career interceptions. He seems to understand depth in coverage and won’t hesitate to break on crossing routes.

While he might get caught staring into the backfield against the run, he’s able to routinely read the quarterback’s eyes in coverage, allowing him to break towards the play quicker than most other linebackers are able to.

On the road at UNLV this past season, Warner helped see one of just two wins on the year for the Cougars by dropping deep into coverage, following the quarterback’s eyes and breaking on the ball near the right sideline.

That’s a ton of ground for a linebacker to cover, but he gets there with ease, undercutting the route for the pick, keeping himself inbounds.

While Warner has made a name for himself as a coverage linebacker, he’s flashed a few times on tape as a solid run defender, working through his reads well to cover up a gap, making a stop.

Against Wisconsin’s power running scheme in 2017, he was manhandled most of the game, but down the stretch he played very well.

One of the biggest knocks I have against Warner is his struggle to get off blocks to make plays on the football, but late in the game against the Badgers, he took on a block by tight end Troy Fumagalli, got off of it quickly and showed some burst to make the stop behind the line of scrimmage.

Plays like these will have defensive coaches and GM’s visualizing just what the BYU linebacker can become at the next level, but then there are times where he looks awful against the run on tape.

In the first gif, Warner is backing away from the block, almost as if he’s expecting pass. Once he realizes it’s a run, it’s too late. The Arizona tackle is already on top of him. In the process, Warner’s lack of physicality here allows the Arizona tackle to not only take him out of the play, but the blitzing BYU cornerback as well.

Later in the game, Warner comes on the blitz against the run, looking to fill a gap, but he just struggles with play strength in situations like these. The Arizona guard negates him quickly, allowing the Wildcat running back to sprint into the end zone for the score.

Overall, I truly like Warner’s athleticism and range as a matchup linebacker, and I have a hard time seeing NFL offenses get a hat on him on boundary runs. Where he’ll struggle is against power schemes that have linemen work to the second level against him, taking advantage of his hesitations at times.

If he can build off of his Senior Bowl performance at the WILL and turn that into who he really is as a player, the top 50-75 buzz will be real, and an NFL team will unearth a gem in today’s world of NFL linebackers.

Projection:  Early-Mid Day 2

Games Watched:  vs. Arizona (’16), at Wisconsin (’17), at UNLV (’17), vs. Boise State (’17), vs. LSU (’17), at Utah (’17)

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