When the San Francisco 49ers made defensive end/linebacker Aldon Smith the No. 7 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, there was a lot of head-scratching. Not many had considered him a possibility at that point, considering guys like Robert Quinn were slated to go much higher. But the 49ers went with their guy and fans warmed up pretty quickly once DeMarcus Ware's name was being thrown around as a point of comparison.
The biggest issue with Smith was the same thing that plagues many players who wish to play the outside linebacker position in a 3-4 defense at the NFL level: standing up. Not only had Smith not done it much at all in the college ranks, the lockout prevented him from having any kind of offseason to really learn the position.
So when the 49ers started using him, it was solely as a pass-rusher. Now, if Smith plays the rest of his career and only does that, there won't be too much of an issue. He's damn good at what he does - already one of the best in the league in that regard. That being said, a 3-4 needs a functional guy that can do the kinds of things that, say, Parys Haralson does.
Which begs the question: is Smith going to stand up at all this season?
Again, if he doesn't, it's all gravy because he's so great at what he already does. But is it likely that he stands? This writer thinks so. Smith is terribly athletic, and the 49ers absolutely love it when they get linebackers who can run down receivers and running backs. Getting Smith to that sideline-to-sideline level that guys like Haralson and Manny Lawson are at would make him one helluva player and then some.
Some feel that standing Smith up is a little silly given how great he is at rushing the passer. But there's value in a player being able to do multiple things and there's always the surprise element. Say the 49ers only use Smith to rush the passer for an entire game. Next week, the opposing team would be, you know, preparing for him to rush the passer.
What better time for Smith to drop back and pick off a pass? Ware does much the same thing for the Dallas Cowboys. He can drop back and make things happen, but more often than naught, he's trying to maim him a quarterback or two. That was the comparison out of college and that's the model right now for Smith. He needs to be Ware. He's halfway there, at this point.