Provo • Although BYU had one of its worst football seasons in school history last year, senior linebacker and team captain Fred Warner still managed to shine.
Friday night, Warner’s persistence, hard work and determination in a trying season were rewarded as the San Francisco 49ers took him with the sixth pick of the third round of the NFL draft, No. 70 overall, as the draft continued in Arlington, Texas, with the second and third rounds.
Projected to get drafted in the middle rounds, Warner went to the 49ers before many expected. But BYU coach Kalani Sitake was not surprised.
“Fred is an exceptional football player and person and is prepared to succeed at the next level,” Sitake said. “Fred has earned this opportunity, and I know he’ll take full advantage of it. With his size and athleticism, he is able to be a cover guy and also play inside, which is a rare combination to find.”
Warner, 6-foot-3 and 236 pounds, will stay in his home state of California. He grew up in San Marcos, Calif., near San Diego, and will likely play inside linebacker for San Francisco after playing on the outside in a three-year starting career at BYU.
Warner grew up a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, but said at BYU’s Pro Day that he would be excited to play for any team that saw him as a valuable piece to their future.
“It is great to be wanted, and I am the one who has to put my best foot forward now,” he said. “It is a business now.”
Most analysts applauded the pick.
“I like that one,” analyst Mike Mayock said on the NFL Network. “Another off-the-ball linebacker who can run.”
The analysts on the network said they were impressed with Warner’s “football IQ” after watching his film.
Warner ran a 4.64 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and had a 38.5-inch vertical jump, numbers he let stand at BYU’s Pro Day.
He was the first defensive player drafted by the 49ers. San Francisco took Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey in the first round and Washington receiver Dante Pettis in the second round.
Warner was the second linebacker taken in the third round, behind Lorenzo Carter of Georgia, and sixth linebacker taken overall. The 49ers might be looking for Warner to fill in for second-year linebacker Reuben Foster, who is dealing with some legal issues.
Warner totaled 262 tackles and 32.5 tackles for loss in his four-year career at BYU. He also had seven interceptions, 6.5 sacks, and returned two interceptions for touchdowns.
“Fred is a leader and an extremely smart football player who knows the game,” Sitake said. “I am really happy for Fred. He will represent himself and BYU very well in the NFL.”
Warner is the 12th BYU player drafted by the 49ers in their history. Former BYU quarterback Brandon Doman and current BYU director of athletics Tom Holmoe were also once drafted by San Francisco, Doman in the fifth round in 2002 and Holmoe in the fourth round in 1983.