American Football

Fred Warner reflects on his journey to becoming the heart and soul of the 49ers defense


2023 NFL Pro Bowl Games
Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

It’s been quite a ride for Warner, who is still evolving as a player.

When Fred Warner was selected with the 70th pick in the 2018 NFL draft, he entered a locker room that had strong leadership in place. The defensive side of the ball was led by respected veterans like Richard Sherman and DeForest Buckner, while Warner came in as a rookie third round pick looking to find his footing in the league.

Fast-forward to the present, and Warner is now a multiple time first team All-Pro selection and widely regarded as the gold standard at the linebacker position in the NFL. This season marked the second time Warner had been named to the Pro Bowl, and the first time he had the opportunity to participate in the event.

While the individual recognition is not lost on Warner, he made it abundantly clear that he cherishes the respect and admiration he has earned from his peers and those within the 49ers organization over the course of the five years he has been in the league.

I asked Warner about his growth as a leader both on and off the field during his time with the 49ers, and Warner was quick to point out how much the culture the current regime has cultivated played a part in Warner blossoming into one of the most talented players in the league.

“It’s been steady ever since I got here, It was set by John [Lynch], Kyle [Shanahan], the York family ever since I was drafted. I’ve been blessed with being around the most amazing coaches and players to help develop me as a player and as a person.”

As Warner grew into the game-changing talent he is today, so did the level of respect around the locker room. Warner just wrapped up his third year as a team captain, and has effectively taken on and embraced the role of being the vocal leader of a star-studded defense that has finished as a top five unit in four consecutive seasons.

I chatted a bit with Warner about how he feels knowing that his teammates look to him as a leader and someone they can depend on to galvanize this group. This quote in particular stood out from our conversation:

“It means everything, it’s humbling. My peers, my brothers, my teammates, they’re the ones who look to me as the leader. I take it head on and I don’t try to do too much, I just try to be who I am and set the standard with the way that I work every single day with the person I am and the player that I am, so I think it’s enough.”

There was a palpable level of pride on Warner’s behalf as he discussed earning the respect of those around him and cherishing the way this team gravitates towards him as a leader. What Warner does on the field is nothing short of spectacular, but his journey from an unheralded third round pick, to now becoming a face of the franchise on one of the best rosters in football, has been flat out remarkable.

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