First round selections rarely come without big expectations, from both the front office and fans. Drafted 7th overall by the San Francisco 49ers this past April was DE/OLB Aldon Smith, a selection which initially caused some dissension among the fans. With big named players still on the board, especially at the position of quarterback (which appeared to be the most glaring weakness on the 49ers squad leading into the 2011 season), the Aldon Smith selection was questioned by fans and analysts alike.
Many fans squawked over this selection, arguing that selecting Aldon Smith at #7 was a "reach" and that better talent was left on the board when GM Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh made Smith the newest member of the 49ers.
Critics have been silenced, especially after the riveting performance which more resembled the play of a seasoned veteran, than a rookie, put on by Aldon Smith last night. Smith imposed his will on Pittsburgh Steelers' left tackle Max Starks, especially in the second half. Possessing an arsenal of pass rushing moves and rare physical attributes, Smith had a field day against the Steelers and an immobile Ben Roethlisberger. Finishing the game with 2.5 quarterback sacks and 7 hits on Roethlisberger, the world got its first glimpse of this promising rookie on primetime television. Star players come out to shine on Monday Night Football and Aldon Smith did just that, justifying San Francisco's $14 million dollar investment on the underclassmen from Missouri.
After the 49ers defeat of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Aldon Smith found himself tied in 5th for the sack lead in the NFL. Only Jason Babin, Jared Allen, Demarcus Ware and Jason Pierre-Paul, all elite pass rushers, are ahead of Aldon Smith. Being mentioned in the same breath as some of the top pass rushers in the league today, Smith is quickly putting himself on the map and many are taking notice.
Aldon Smith is in a position to potentially break Jevon Kearse's rookie NFL sack record of 14.5. Through 14 games Smith has sacked the opposing quarterback 13 times, tying Dwight Freeney's rookie sack mark which is second behind Kearse's astounding sack total achieved in his first season. With two games left, breaking the rookie sack record is still an achievement which is quite attainable for the 49ers budding young star.
Next Saturday Aldon Smith and the 49ers will be in Seattle taking on the Seahawks and an offensive line which has been severely plagued by the injury bug. Regular starters Russell Okung, John Moffit and James Carpenter won't be protecting Tarvaris Jackson as they are all sidelined due to injuries. Sack opportunities will be aplenty for Smith and the 49ers defensive unit as a whole against the Seattle Seahawks' makeshift offensive line.
The presence of a true pass rusher was non-existent on 49ers squads of years past and Aldon Smith has filled that void admirably in his first season. Defensive rookie of the year honors is not out of the question, nor is being selected to the Pro Bowl, in this, Aldon Smith's inaugural season.
A vicious pass rush is a commodity which can seriously benefit the play of a defensive unit. Defensive backs need not cover as long, as there is potential for a quarterback sack on any given play. Aldon Smith has injected an energy and enthusiasm into a previously lifeless San Francisco 49ers' pass rush and the benefits are seen each and every Sunday.
Pending Aldon Smith continues to progress and grow as a pass rusher; one can only imagine what he will become. With Smith notching 13 sacks through his first 14 games as a pro football player at just 22 years of age, the excitement around the 49ers facility is justified. A true pass rusher with instinctive and natural talent has found his way to the Bay Area, and 49ers fans hope to see #99 tossing aside offensive lineman and laying the wood on opposing quarterbacks for many years to come.