By the time the San Francisco 49ers selected Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster with the 31st pick in Thursday's NFL Draft, it certainly seemed that when his urine was diluted in a drug test, so was his stock as a prospect.
However, other issues were in play, including reports that his medical recheck recently revealed concerns about his right shoulder, which underwent surgery for a rotator cuff problem in February.
After being drafted, Foster discussed his issues and his desires in a conference call and not only did his best to dismiss concerns, but predicted his play would be reminiscent of that of former All-Pro 49er Patrick Willis.
First, the shoulder.
"It's 90 percent, I'll be ready for training camp," he said, adding that he wasn't sure that was a reason he slid to No. 31. "I don't care. It's a blessing that they just picked me period up in this position I am in.
"Man, it's like I always said, man, turn a negative into a positive. I've got to prove, just prove my fact. I've got to just prove my passion for the sport. I've got a chip on my shoulder, true yeah. I've got things to prove, big things to prove. ... Like people think about the character off the field and everything, but I've just got to show 'em, like, how serious I take my job."
Foster, at 6 feet, 229 pounds, was considered the best inside linebacker in the draft. He was ranked No. 10 overall by NFLDraftscout.com and among the top 10 by many. But questions arose after he was sent home from the Indianapolis Combine for causing a commotion during his medical exam. He technically flunked his drug test because the urine sample was diluted by too much water.
San Francisco general manager John Lynch said he discussed the combine issue, among other things, with Foster and was more than satisfied.
"I don't know what other people's issues were with him," Lynch said. "I think some things, you know there's the issue at the combine. We talked with Reuben about that and he apologized for it, admitted that it was a mistake.
"I think a lot of young people make mistakes. You know, I would anticipate people maybe questioning some of his character, but I would tell you his character's what drew us to him. When you start talking football with this young man, he lights up a room, and he's a good kid. I believe in the kid, and I think it's going to be, he's going to be a great player for this organization for a long time."
Foster admitted he expected there were worries over the combine incident and the urine test.
"Yeah, of course," he said. "People were concerned about the diluted sample. People were concerned about me just getting kicked out of the combine. But they gave me a chance. They gave me a chance, and I really appreciate the 49ers. I'm just ready to go hard and work hard and just prove that I'm worthy of that spot, and they're not going to regret it."
Foster also missed playing time throughout his career with multiple shoulder stingers and was dinged as a senior with a concussion (October) and left hand injury (November). Then there was the rotator cuff operation this year.
San Francisco, which earlier traded down from No. 2 to No. 3 in the draft, traded back into the first round to acquire Foster. The 49ers dealt their second-round pick (No. 34 overall) and a fourth-rounder acquired from the Bears earlier in the night (No. 111 overall) to the Seattle Seahawks for pick No. 31.
The 49ers lost a lot of linebacker talent since the Jim Harbaugh glory days. Without question, the biggest loss was Patrick Willis to retirement, and Chris Borland retired after one NFL season. However, NaVorro Bowman was one of the best defenders in the league before tearing up his knee, and he has been very good since his return.
Now Foster will have the opportunity to play alongside Bowman, and he intends to do so in a manner reminiscent of Willis.
"I'm trying to be the great, the next Patrick Willis, the next great linebacker in their history," he said, adding that he patterned his game after Willis and former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.
On the field for Alabama, Foster displayed undeniable talent. He was perhaps the most intimidating hitter in the draft, and he possesses the fluid athleticism to serve as a three-down defender. In four years with Alabama, two as a starter, Foster totaled 222 tackles, with 115 collected last year while winning the Butkus Award as the best linebacker in college.
Not only was Foster excused from the combine, but he also declined an invitation to the Senior Bowl, so scouts were unable to evaluate him up close and personal, leaving them to rely on his game play. Foster was well-liked by teammates, and he already received a bachelor's degree last December.
Foster was a top-rated linebacker since leaving high school as a five-star recruit. However, he was a controversial figure even before suiting up in college. He originally committed to Alabama before switching to Auburn and getting an Auburn tattoo on his forearm. Then, after Gene Chizik and his staff were fired, Foster re-opened his recruitment, and in the end, he chose the Tide over the Tigers.
As junior, Foster was part of the linebacker rotation, and he collected 73 tackles, eight tackles for loss, two sacks and a career-best nine passes defended. As a senior, Foster started all 15 games as the WILL linebacker last year and recorded 13 tackles for loss and five sacks.