Reuben Foster Injury Marks Opportunity For Shaun Dion Hamilton

Photo: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Not sure what's in the water down there in the nation's capital but between quarterback Alex Smith and linebacker Reuben Foster we've now seen two devastating leg injuries in the past 8 months. Let it serve as the latest brutal reminder that in football -- as with everything else -- life goes on. For Foster, who it was announced yesterday suffered an ACL tear and the team fears additional damage to his leg, it is the latest hurdle he'll have to clear if he wants to play football in the NFL. Foster's early career has been marred by domestic violence accusations, several arrests, injuries and a failed drug test at the NFL Combine -- which he was kicked out of for an altercation with a hospital staff member.

How does a young player with so many strikes against him get so many chances in the NFL? Being supremely talented helps. The Redskins scooped up Foster off of waivers last November -- just days after the 49ers cut him for yet another domestic violence accusation. Here's some of what made Foster a 1st-round pick despite the red flags -- and what Washington will be missing now that Foster's season (at a minimum) is over before it began.

My pre-draft notes on Foster:

Reuben Foster, Off Ball Linebacker #10

Games watched: Ole Miss (2015), Clemson (2015), USC (2016), Tennessee (2016), Texas A&M (2016), Florida (2016), Washington (2016), Clemson (2016)

Football Intelligence: Mental processing speed and transition to pursuit is astounding. Trusts keys and understands when to play forward and when to string out from the second level. Angles in space and working through traffic are strong.

Tackling: Ability to close down and attack the ball is top notch. Explosive, violent tackler who will put fear in opposing players. Plays at point of contact with a violent but controlled chaos. Range and ability to prevent YAC are both notable as well.

Block Shedding: Ability to press and get off of blocks is a great POA asset. Can be late occasionally with hands to press and clear space to disengage. Power through frame, pads and hands allow for stonewalling of blockers and has natural recovery to reset and get into pursuit.

Competitive Toughness: Is a middle of the field enforcer and the heartbeat of defensive unit. Motor ran much hotter and with more consistency in 2016; aggressiveness and ability to thrive and play through contact are evident immediately. Passionate, animated player.

Lateral Movement: High end range and has the ability to fill a sideline to sideline MIKE LB role at the NFL level. Lateral speed and patience to scrape over the top is a great safety net for run unit. Plays forward and attack gaps while scraping when opportunity presents; has speed to finish.

Coverage Skills: Does suck up vs. play fakes but trusts relocation skills by turning and bailing off of the LOS to get depth and take away crossing patterns. Does well to pin slotted receivers and carry vertically and protect the MOF when tasked with man coverage.

Gap Shooting Ability: Keys on OL very well to transition out of read step and into the teeth of the POA. Explosiveness is much more evident after having shed weight and allows for sudden attacks into the backfield before protection schemes can account for an extra body.

Feet/COD: Feet play with a dynamic mobility that is impressive when tasked with re-direction. Can open up strides in straight line situations but temper steps to control trajectory prior to deciding to shoot and attack. Nice transitions flipping hips off of the LOS.

Flexibility: Re-worked body prior to Senior season and looks like a whole different athlete. Mobility throughout the lower body is much more natural with less weight above the waist. Coils and explodes into hits with consistency.

First Step Quickness: Burst is impressive. As a blitz player is capable of winning off the edge of protection sets. Will green dog when back stays in protection and is capable of getting home if the Quarterback holds, looking for an outlet receiver. 

Alabama's Reuben Foster took a wonderful step forward with his 2016 campaign. Already a valued prospect, Foster remodeled his body composition by losing over 10 pounds and the end result was a greatly improved dynamic movement skills. Foster did not lose an iota of hitting power in his transition and now has full field range and pairs it with an explosive functional skill set. Foster has strong mental processing in live action as well; he sees plays very early on and trusts his keys to lead him to the football. Foster has an ability to play through traffic as well, he is patient to press the LOS and take on blockers before pressing laterally or popping with his hands to get into further pursuit. His range in pass coverage allows him to influence and disrupt TE routes in the middle of the field. Foster is a defensive stalwart and can be the face of a defensive unit for the next decade. 

- First Round Grade, #8 overall prospect -

Is it disheartening, reading the notes of a potential star knowing that we may have to look back and wonder "what if"? Of course it is. And the news for Foster isn't looking good -- Ian Rapoport reported that the damage to Foster's leg is "major and significant". So what does the ILB position look like for the Redskins now? The team cut Zach Brown this past March, the team planning that Foster would take his place next to Mason Foster and provide an upgrade in athleticism.

That won't be the case. Instead, the team will look to lean on another Crimson Tide alumni to get the job done: 2018 6th-round pick Shaun Dion Hamilton. Dion Hamilton is a quality player in his own right. He's more athletically limited than Foster, but was a sound prospect coming out of the University of Alabama. There's just one problem -- Dion Hamilton has durability issues of his own. He missed time in 2016 with an ACL tear and then missed more time in 2017 with a fractured patella.

The 2018 rookie started the final four games of the season for Washington last year and actually did quite well -- he logged 23 tackles and 1.5 sacks in those four games. Is there a chance Dion Hamilton could be a long-term answer for Washington? If his college resume is any indication? Yes.

My pre-draft notes on Shaun Dion Hamilton:

Shaun Dion Hamilton, Off Ball Linebacker #20

Games watched: Southern California (2016), Auburn (2016), Florida State (2017), Texas A&M (2017), Mississippi (2017)

Football Intelligence: Does well to trust keys and take initial movement to flow in direction of responsibility. Quick to identify mis-information and work eyes back to the football Has good patience along the LOS to not over pursue and stay in a favorable position to finish.

Tackling: Has slid off of some tackles due to an apparent lack of length to finish a wrap up tackle in head up situations. Has great pop in pads and does well to carry into pursuit with good angles. Stays balanced and is not one to overrun the ball carrier.

Block Shedding: Has trouble sustaining balance in situations trying to pull off of offensive linemen. Will rip and work hips around when flowing into the sideline but in head up situations and short area sheds has shown some issues with length.

Competitive Toughness: Work ethic illustrated with a rapid turnaround from a torn ACL in December 2016, was one of best players on field for Game 1 in 2017. Heavy hitter in head up situations. Shows excellent pursuit and motor to chase down the ball.

Coverage Skills: Has surprising level of hip hinge and has effective zone drops to buzz into the middle of the field. Shows peripheral vision to flow laterally and carry routes through needed area. Limited in turn and run ability if challenged up the field but can cover backs in the flat.

Gap Shooting Ability: In one gap situations is highly effective playing down hill and plugging blockers to seal. Most of success has come as a patient second level scrape defender, where lateral mobility and finishing skills prevent big gains.

Feet/COD: Feet are efficient. Does not show a lot of springy change of direction skills but rather wins with pace and patience. Has good footwork to work over the top of a block or flip the hips and carry out into zone coverage.

Flexibility: Hips are most loose working away from the LOS. Doesn't show much in the way of looseness throughout the feet to play with legs away from under center of gravity for dynamic change of direction skills.

Lateral Movement: Has enough scrape ability to influence runs working out into the boundary, although more speedy backs can potentially turn the corner on him. Pacing is best on the second level, where able to work fully unimpeded by blockers.

First Step Quickness: Has able initial acceleration skills. Closing ability when flying into a tackle challenge is useful and effective to prevent backs from gaining a late angle as a runner. 

Shaun Dion Hamilton projects most favorably as an inside LB in an odd man front. There, he is ensured optimal reps without contact in pursuit in the run game and could be utilized as a middle of the field zone defender. Would be an effective starter in this system. 

- Fourth Round Grade, #136 overall prospect -

The time is now for Shaun Dion Hamilton. Ironically, the player with the durability concerns may reap the benefit of a teammate succumbing to an injury of their own to secure a starting job. Dion Hamilton has the football intelligence to make it work. He's just got to...you know...stay healthy.

Written By:

Kyle Crabbs

Chief Brand Officer

CBO & Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-host of the Draft Dudes podcast. Former NDT Scouting Overlord.

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