Fred Warner was perhaps the best linebacker in all of the NFL in the 2020 season, earning his first Pro Bowl nod in his third year, and the 49ers star also was named an All-Pro for the first time.
That earned him a record-breaking five-year, $95 million contract extension over the summer. With a new contract, especially one that made him the highest-paid inside linebacker in football, sky-high expectations followed. Warner started the season with 11 tackles against the Detroit Lions in Week 1, but to his standards this hasn't been the kind of season he expects out of himself.
All of that changed Sunday in the 49ers' win over the Houston Texans at Levi's Stadium. Warner finished the win with a season-high 15 tackles and forced a fumble. He looked like the 2020 version of himself, however, his focus is solely on the future instead of the past.
"I feel like I'm at a 2022 level now," Warner said when asked if he feels he's back to his 2020 self.
Whether it be on the field or off, the world in and out of the NFL has gone through a major shift in the past year-plus. In late January of 2021, Warner opened up on an episode of "49ers Talk" about his "scary" experience after testing positive for COVID-19 just before the start of the 2020 season.
This season, he missed a game for the first time in his four-year career after sustaining a hamstring injury in Week 12 against the Minnesota Vikings when he had just three tackles and played only 60 percent of San Francisco's defensive snaps. He wasn't able to go the next week in the 49ers' loss to the Seattle Seahawks, and admitted Wednesday to reporters that he found himself in a bad place earlier this season.
"It's been quite the roller coaster all year," Warner said. "I've learned so much just of myself and going through some hardships throughout the season. There was a point in time where I was in a darkish place. I kind of had to bury myself out of there."
San Francisco 49ers
Ahead of the 49ers' regular-season finale Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams, Warner feels he's at his best before a rivalry matchup full of playoff implications.
"I wish I would have figured it out sooner, but I feel like now I finally figured it out as to why I was where I was and where I'm at now," Warner said. "I'm for sure the best I've ever been right now mentally and physically in all areas of my game.
"I think that's why you did see the performance this past Sunday and why I'll perform at my best come this Sunday."
That should be a scary thought for the Rams and the rest of the NFL, figuring Warner already has recorded a career-high 129 tackles in 15 games this season. This final game of the regular season is the biggest, though, and Warner is ready to bring his very best.