THE WARRIOR
Niner Report|November 2020
Warner’s willpower setting standard for 49ers defense
Craig Massei

With multiple Pro Bowlers and a NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in front of him and a perennial All-Pro behind him, Fred Warner sometimes got overlooked in the middle of San Francisco powerful defense last season during its rise in becoming one of the NFL’s most fearsome units.

Not anymore.

Not by anybody.

“It starts with me on defense,” Warner said in October.

That has been an undeniable development this year during Warner’s third NFL season. As one of the greatest defensive units in 49ers history cracked and sometimes crumbled around him, Warner’s star continued to rise as he became the driving force in keeping that defense among the league’s most formidable units through October despite a series of key injuries to some of its best players.

Warner has been a true warrior through it all, refusing to let the 49ers slip despite the offseason departure of All-Pro defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, the season-ending injuries to stars such as defensive end Nick Bosa and extensive absences due to injury to stars such as Pro Bowl edge rusher Dee Ford and All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman.

He’s the go-to leader on this defense now, and Warner’s willpower to both succeed and improve has been one of San Francisco’s top highlights as the defending NFC champions struggled to recover from their injuries and keep up with the standard being produced by the tenacious, tone-setting Warner.

“Fred’s a stud,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “Fred gets better each year. He came in and played at a high level as a rookie, we put a lot of pressure on him as a rookie and that pressure paid off because it gave him a ton of experience. He rose to the challenge then, and he’s taken it to a whole other level each year. Fred is as much of a pro as I’ve been around.”

Warner’s professionalism and leadership have been tested this season during his emergence as San Francisco’s best defensive player while other top defenders fall by the wayside.

“Those are huge losses for our defense, no questions asked,” Warner said. “But we have a lot of depth. A lot of talk outside the building has been a lot about what we’ve lost, but not a lot about the depth we have, the other people we have on this defense. I don’t think a lot has changed. We go out there to prove we’re the defense that we say we are and show on tape with guys who are aggressive and trying to get after it to make plays.”

Nobody on San Francisco’s defense has been more aggressive or made more plays this year as the 49ers approach midseason.

Entering Week 6, Warner ranked eighth in the NFL and was San Francisco’s runaway team leader with 44 tackles, just like he was the team’s runaway leader with 118 tackles last season, and just like he was the runaway team leader with 123 tackles during his rookie season of 2018.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM NINER REPORTView All

LOOKING BACK…

It was a season to remember. It was a season to forget. Either way, you look at it, it was the strangest of seasons for San Francisco that you will ever see. Looking back at the year that was to illustrate that point, The Niner Report has assembled the best, worst and most unconventional of the 49ers’ 2020 season.

8 mins read
Niner Report
February/March 2021

TO BE DETERMINED…

49ers enter offseason with options at QB

6 mins read
Niner Report
February/March 2021

TOP 8 Worst encore seasons

There have been plenty of tough acts to follow in the history of the 49ers franchise with a team that has five Super Bowl championships, seven Super Bowl visits, 16 trips to the NFC Championship game, and 27 playoff appearances. That kind of success has seen the 49ers enter many seasons over the years looking to take the next step to greatness or simply maintain it. That makes them fall and crash even worse when San Francisco failed to achieve those goals coming off triumphant seasons. The 2020 49ers know all about it, which lands them a place on this list of the worst encore seasons in franchise history.

4 mins read
Niner Report
February/March 2021

SEASON IN REVIEW

Did somebody say Super Bowl hangover?

10+ mins read
Niner Report
February/March 2021

ROOKIE REVIEW

After building the 49ers into NFC champions with young talent during their first three years together — when San Francisco had a total of 40 rookies see action from 2017-2019 — the team’s leadership tandem of general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan found themselves with considerably less draft capital at their disposal in the fourth year of their partnership.

8 mins read
Niner Report
February/March 2021

GOOD MOVE OR BAD MOVE?

Revisiting 49ers’ 2020 personnel decisions

10+ mins read
Niner Report
February/March 2021

STOCK UP STOCK DOWN

STOCK UP STOCK DOWN

3 mins read
Niner Report
January 2021

SOLD ON SALEH

Highly regarded DC likely to leave San Francisco after season for higher position

9 mins read
Niner Report
January 2021

SHOPPING FOR A NEW DC

With the imminent departure of Robert Saleh during the offseason to a head coaching position elsewhere in the NFL, the 49ers will find themselves searching for a new defensive coordinator for the first time since 2017. With the defensive talent the 49ers have on hand, and San Francisco possessing a playoff-ready roster and one of the NFL’s most respected coaching staffs, the position will be attractive to a wide variety of candidates, including several veteran coaches who have had previous success in the league. Here’s a look at some top candidates who could be in the running to become San Francisco’s new DC in 2021.

3 mins read
Niner Report
January 2021

TOP 10 Team executives

Achieving the highest level of success at every stop of his football lifetime, John Lynch climbed the ladder from collegiate star to nine-time NFL ProBowler to respected television analyst before he joined the 49ers as a first-time general manager in 2017. Since then, he’s become one of the men most responsible for building the franchise back into a champion with his shrewd moves and organizational acumen. Named the NFL’s 2019 Executive of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America, Lynch has quickly earned his place on this list of the greatest team executives in 49ers history.

3 mins read
Niner Report
January 2021
RELATED STORIES

‘I've shown a glimpse of what I can do'

QUESTION SESSION WITH WR DENZEL MIMS

3 mins read
NY Jets Confidential
January 2021

JC Deep Dive: Coaching candidates from college

On Nov. 27, Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer caught the attention of Jets fans when he mentioned Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald as a possible candidate for Gang Green, if they make a coaching change.

10 mins read
NY Jets Confidential
January 2021

Shoots from the hip

SEASON OF SAVINGS

8 mins read
NY Jets Confidential
January 2021

Fields vision

If the Jets end up with the NFL’s worst record and land the first pick in the 2021 draft, there is a good chance they will select a quarterback.

7 mins read
NY Jets Confidential
January 2021

CORNERBACK SHOPPING

The Jets had issues at cornerback this season, so it’s an area they could address with a few of their myriad 2021 draft picks.

3 mins read
NY Jets Confidential
January 2021

Jones, Sanders, Baker's big play

Cornerback Byron Jones made quite an impact on the field in his first season with the Dolphins, but he also was recognized for his off-the-field work.

4 mins read
Dolphin Digest
January 2021

HOWARD'S FINEST HOUR

How and why the Dolphins cornerback ‘kept balling’ in 2020

6 mins read
Dolphin Digest
January 2021

Another major step forward

The 2020 season will end up being viewed as an undeniable success for the Dolphins, no matter the outcome of the final two games

3 mins read
Dolphin Digest
January 2021

THE SECOND CAREER OF MARTELLUS BENNETT

The former NFL tight end writes the kind of children’s books he would have loved as a kid.

10 mins read
The Atlantic
January - February 2021

Anchor aweigh?

Raiders have decision to make about oft-injured OT Brown

4 mins read
Silver & Black Illustrated
January 2021