There is an ongoing debate on which colleges have a warranted claim to Linebacker U. While the teams highlighted in that debate tend to vary from year to year, Alabama’s linebacker group has consistently been at or near the top of the conversation. With names like Rolando McClain, Dont’a Hightower, CJ Mosley and Reggie Ragland, there is no arguing that the University of Alabama is a breeding ground for elite linebacker prospects.
Reuben Foster is no different. After a roller coaster recruitment that ended with Foster enrolled at the University of Alabama with an Auburn logo tattoo, the pressure was on for him to become the star that was worth fighting over.
After spending his early childhood in the state of Alabama, Foster and his family moved to LaGrange, Georgia. Foster eventually ended up at Troup High School where he would immediately become a star linebacker for the Tigers after posting 110 tackles as a freshman. The legend of the "Freakish Freshman" was quickly growing.
After another quality performance as a sophomore, Foster went on to post 185 tackles, 34 tackles for loss and 18 sacks as a junior for the Troup Tigers. Every major program in the country was salivating at the idea of landing the 6-1 244 pound linebacker prospect who could lay a hit like Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis. That’s when things went haywire.
Foster had committed to the University of Alabama on July 18th, 2011, but things were quickly shaken up when his high school head coach Charles Flowers was dismissed for allegedly paying a player to enroll at Troup High School. This dismissal ultimately led to Foster transferring to Auburn High School before his senior year.
With Foster now in enemy territory, the rumors quickly began to spread that he would swap his commitment from Alabama to cross-state rival Auburn. That prediction eventually came true and on July 12th, 2012, after being committed to the University of Alabama for almost a full calendar year, Foster swapped his commitment to Auburn University.
The swap was short-lived. After a long, exhaustive recruitment which included Foster getting an Auburn tattoo on his forearm to show his commitment, he switched back to the University of Alabama and signed with the team in February of 2013.
Due to the over-publicized recruitment of Foster, there were a lot of expectations when he arrived on campus during the summer of 2013. Those expectations were probably unfair, and his failure to live up to those expectations were in no way Foster’s fault. At the time, the depth chart was loaded at inside linebacker and was led by future Defensive Rookie of the Year runner-up CJ Mosley.
Foster’s first two years on campus were mostly filled with special teams highlights. The heat-seeking missile from Auburn was lighting people up on kickoff, and the biggest play of his sophomore season came with three seconds to play against LSU. The game was tied at 13-13 and LSU freshman phenom Leonard Fournette was returning the kickoff. Fournette gained control of a squib kick around the five-yard line but was quickly met by Foster once Fournette had returned that kick to around the 19. It was a devastating hit that set the tone for the Crimson Tide heading into an overtime that they would eventually win.
Although Foster was mostly a special teams player his sophomore year, he did get limited playing time on defense and finished the year with 23 tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack. With Trey DePriest graduating, a starting spot opened up for Foster and he didn’t waste any time taking advantage.
Foster started all 15 games his junior year and finished second on the team with 73 tackles. He also recorded eight tackles for loss, three sacks and nine passes defended. Foster made his presence felt in every facet on defense, and he quickly established himself as one of the premier NFL linebacker prospects in the country.
Reckless. Relentless. Fearless. These are just a few of the words that would accurately describe Foster’s playing style. He is wrecking ball on the field who has shown a knack for finding the football and delivering bone-crushing hits. He has steadily improved over the course of his career, and his projections seem to be pointing in the right direction.
Foster has developed a good feel for the game, and it shows in his polished approach. While he does make a living striking fear into the hearts of his opponents, he is able to stay under control and rarely takes himself out of position when carrying out his assignments.
He is aggressive when coming downhill to take on blockers, and he does a really nice job setting up his teammates to make plays by attacking lead blocks and pulls with authority. This selfless approach is refreshing because he constantly shows a willingness to put the defense’s success over his own.
In the passing game, Foster is active and seems to have a good feel for route concepts. He sets up opposing quarterbacks and almost seems to bait them at times. His ability to break on the football is highlighted multiple times throughout his junior year, and it shows that he can be an every down linebacker in the NFL.
Foster is also a sound tackler. According to Pro Football Focus, Foster only missed seven tackles last season which made him one of the most efficient tacklers in the country. His combination of aggression and efficiency is a rare commodity, and that talent makes him one of the top linebacker prospects for the 2017 class.
While Foster’s recklessness is admirable, it does come at a cost. Foster is constantly dealing with nagging injuries, and he has even missed some time as a result of him fearlessly throwing around his body. He is an efficient tackler, but his technique does lack at times when he dips his head which puts him at risk of a career-ending type of injury. He did improve in this area from his sophomore to his junior year, but there were still a couple of occasions where he displayed poor technique.
Another potential problem is Foster’s speed. He isn’t slow by any means and his change of direction is actually quite impressive. I just don’t believe he possesses above average straight-line speed which could hurt him when testing for the NFL.
Reuben Foster is one of main players who is going to have to step up and lead the defense in 2016. His relentless and selfless style of play sets a good example for the rest of the team, and I believe it will help him become the face of the defense this year.
There are other players on the defense who will probably get drafted higher than he does following this season, but like with Reggie Ragland in 2015, there might not be a more important player to the defenses’ success than Reuben Foster.