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Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster had a rocky road in the months leading up to the draft, and he felt the consequences on Thursday night.
Foster, considered one of the top-10 talents in the draft, wasn’t even the first true inside linebacker selected. That was Jarrad Davis, who went No. 21 to the Detroit Lions. Temple’s Haason Reddick might also settle at inside linebacker, and he went No. 13 to the Arizona Cardinals. Foster had to wait until the first round was almost over – the San Francisco 49ers traded up and finally took Foster with the 31st overall pick. San Francisco gave up a fourth-round pick to move up from No. 34 to No. 31 to get Foster.
While it certainly looks like the 49ers got a steal, there are good reasons 30 teams passed on Foster before the 49ers grabbed him.
Every year, a player or two falls in the first round due to off-field news. Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley fell a bit too, due to a rape allegation and an open investigation into it. Foster’s troubles weren’t as serious as that, but he was sent home from the combine for a verbal altercation with a hospital employee, then news broke that he failed a drug test at the combine due to a diluted sample. Add in a slow recovery from a rotator cuff surgery, and that was the third strike for many teams.
Teams with a significant need at inside linebacker and picks in the 20s passed on Foster. The Denver Broncos passed. So did the New York Giants. The Oakland Raiders took Conley. The Cleveland Browns took defensive back Jabrill Peppers, who isn’t considered by many to be the same level prospect as Foster and also had a positive test at the combine for a diluted sample. It looked like Foster might fall completely out of the first round, but the 49ers jumped ahead of the New Orleans Saints at No. 32 – another team with a linebacker need – and drafted Foster.
Foster drew comparisons to Patrick Willis before the draft, and now he goes to the team Willis starred for. Perhaps Foster can still have the type of amazing career that Willis had. And maybe the surprising drop on draft night will provide him some extra motivation.
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More NFL draft coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• Dan Wetzel: How Roger Goodell saved the NFL draft
• Grading every pick: Who did the best in Round 1?
• Falcons’ pick wins draft night with emotional, expletive-laden interview
• Watson’s heartwarming moment after being drafted
• Raiders take risk, pick CB at center of rape investigation