Of all the rookies in the 2011 draft class, this young man was involved in several major discussions, not because he couldn’t play or was overrated. It was a matter of figuring out where to play him, which is a good thing.
His name is Aldon Smith, the outside linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers who played defensive end at Mizzou and now is creating havoc off the edge in the NFL. He has transitioned rather quickly based off film evaluations from the first six games and has contributed to an explosive defense that is the best in the NFC West.
The seventh pick in the draft, Smith is the first 49ers player since middle linebacker Patrick Willis (2007) to win defensive rookie of the month from the NFL. For the month of October, Smith finished with 6.5 sacks, one forced fumble, a safety, three passes defensed, within a four-game stretch, and is a candidate for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. With five weeks remaining in the 2011 season, the sack projection for Smith is 15 and a few of his teammates are soaring with double-digit projections as well: defensive end Justin Smith (10) and linebacker Ahmad Brooks (9).
Smith spent a large portion of his college career as a defensive end, and in sub-packages he would reduce inside and rush the passer. He was on the banquet circuit before the draft visiting 13 NFL clubs and had seven workouts. Only three teams ran the 3-4, and wanted to see him drop and move in space.
When 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was asked about the rookie, he said, “The toughest part, No. 1, when you’re a dropper, is figuring out if it’s a run or pass and getting into your drop at the right time. Invariably what happens to most guys who are making this transition, they’re either one way or the other to the extreme. They’re very late getting out in their drop. Or because they’re dropping, they’re way too early. And you’ll see a lot of these guys drop when it’s a run. I know that sounds very elementary. But that’s the hardest part.”
This was my 2011 draft report evaluation on Aldon Smith: Very good athlete with thick frame and long levers. Very good body balance and control to contort and maintain balance with closing burst and acceleration in play. Natural 4-3 defensive end for the next level is not wired right for 3-4 outside linebacker when it comes to dropping in space, zone awareness and man coverage skills. Natural pass-rush skills with explosive first-step quickness, use of hands to create separation with ability to flip and clear hips with burst to quarterback with closing speed. Slightly stiff in hips but is not an issue. Explosive use of hands to grab and steer, tilt/toss with good shock and shed on the move. Can reduce inside and rush the passer. Good football instincts vs. the run with read reaction quickness, is competitive, tough and aggressive. Explosive collision tackling skills with good wrap or drag and drop technique. Player that is still raw with huge ceiling; will further develop with NFL tutelage. Top 10-15 talent.
This rookie is a quick learner, football attributes are developing quickly and production is stacking up fast. I can’t wait to see him up close and in person at the NFL level of competition on Sunday against the Rams.