The San Francisco 49ers drafted outside linebacker Aldon Smith with the seventh overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft, and the selection is starting to pay off for the tough 49ers defense. The product out of Missouri has been on fire in recent weeks, recording 5.5 sacks in the team's past three games.
According to Mike Sando of ESPN, Smith is on pace to rack up 14.5 sacks by the end of the regular season. That figure would tie Smith with Jevon Kearse for an NFL rookie record.
Smith has played extremely well in recent weeks. Last week, for instance, Smith contributed four tackles and one safety to go along with his 2.0 sacks. He has not started a single NFL game yet, and his projected stats could rise if he moves into the starting spot.
With so few games to judge from so far, this type of performance could turn out to be an anomaly. Kearse's rookie season, for instance, turned out to be just that. After recording 14.5 sacks in his first year, Kearse followed up with totals of 11.5 and 10.0 sacks over the next two seasons before failing to reach double digits ever again. Perhaps some of the decline can be attributed to age, but some of it can also be attributed to the fact that averaging roughly 1 sack per game is difficult to maintain over an entire season.
It's too soon to know for sure how good Smith can be in the NFL. What we do know, though, is that Smith has the potential to become an impact player for the 49ers defense in coming years.