Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports


How Does Free Agent OLB/DE Za’Darius Smith Fit with the 49ers?

Mar 8, 2019 at 8:44 AM


There's no question that the 49ers need to improve their defense by increasing production from the edge rushers. While a lot of attention has been paid to the edge talent in the draft, the 49ers only project to have six selections in this draft (the team is expected to receive a sixth-round compensatory selection), and they will need to add more than one edge rusher to make the position one of strength. While the team could still double up on edge rushers in the draft, there are some interesting veteran options that could be available in free agency. While free agents don't offer the same optimism or affordability as a draft pick, they have already demonstrated what they can do in the NFL, which can make them seem like less of a gamble, even though they come with a much higher cap hit than a wage-controlled rookie. We are going to look at what one prospective free agent edge rusher has shown in his first four years in the league.

Za'Darius Smith collected 8.5 sacks last year for the Baltimore Ravens, and he did so while only starting 8 games. He has demonstrated toughness by playing through a sports hernia that had to be repaired after the season, and by playing with a hamstring strain that caused him to miss practice in October. He is a height/weight specimen, in that he stands just over six feet, four inches, and he weighs a lean 274 pounds. Smith is not an explosive athlete. His combine was lackluster, and his poor testing shows clearly when assessing his change of direction, flexibility, and acceleration on the field. He is much more of a power player than a speed player, as his dominant play strength allows him to compensate for his limited athleticism. His arms are short for an edge player, at roughly 32.5 inches, which costs him significant leverage against long-armed tackles, but he has managed to adjust his technique to limit the negative effect of his poor arm length.

RUN DEFENSE


Smith's tremendous play strength allows him to set a dominant edge against the run, which would allow him to perform well at either edge of the 49ers run defense. As a LEO, he would be an asset in the run game, as he rarely gives ground to offensive tackles in one-on-one blocking scenarios. He accounts for his short arms by turning perpendicular to his blocker and holding him at length with a long arm (a single, fully-extended arm that gains structural integrity by locking out the elbow joint). As a SAM, he would positively dominate tight ends, as he consistently knocks them back one or two yards into the backfield while setting the edge. Smith is not an explosive tackler, but he is a secure wrap-up tackler in his gap. He can be outrun to the sideline on wide running plays, even after winning on the edge, because he can't get up to speed quickly enough to corral speedier running backs when they bounce the play. If the off-ball linebackers and safeties are flowing fast, this presents little danger to the defense.

PASS RUSH


As a pass rusher, Smith is less of a fit for the 49ers. While his 8.5 sacks would have placed him second overall and first among edge players on the 49ers in 2018, he did all of his best work rushing against guards, where he also collected nearly all of his first move wins. While almost half of his sacks came on the edge, they could all be written off as coverage sacks, or clean up sacks (when he is able to track down the quarterback fleeing the pocket after another teammate forces the quarterback off of his spot).

Against guards, Smith's short arms are less of a disadvantage, and his agility, which is below average on the edge, becomes a strength against guards, who are typically less nimble than offensive tackles. He wins quickly with an array of simple moves. Even though his hand strikes lack violence, his strength allows him to power through the side of the man he is attacking to clear a path to the quarterback. Once he clears the blocker, he achieves a forward lean that allows him to maximize his limited talent and accelerate quickly to the quarterback.

As an edge rusher, Smith is significantly more limited. The impressive long arm he uses so dominantly in the run game lacks the explosion and violence to displace offensive tackles into the pocket when he attempts to bull rush. His limited balance and flexibility make it impossible for him to corner the edge with speed and bend. His counter moves are embarrassingly bad, and his favorite counter is an inside spin which works so slowly that he actually loses ground while attempting to counter inside. Two seconds after the snap, it is fairly common to see Smith's rush completely stalled, with him seemingly content to contain the pocket and spy the quarterback to see if he can collect another clean up sack.

VALUE TO 49ERS


To wrap it up, I think Za'Darius Smith is a tough, productive defender who would excel in the Big End role in the 49ers defense: an edge defender on base downs and interior pass rusher in sub packages. Unfortunately, the 49ers' roster is full of those players, including Solomon Thomas, Arik Armstead, Ronald Blair, and Kentavius Street, so Smith doesn't strengthen a position of weakness for the 49ers in a way that his listed position, as he doesn't offer much as an edge rusher. Smith is likely to secure a big free agent contract, and the 49ers should not be the team to give it to him.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


0 Comments

  • No Comments

Facebook Comments



More San Francisco 49ers News



49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo believes Deebo Samuel made leap as a leader 'sometime in training camp'

By Rohan Chakravarthi
Nov 17

49ers receiver Deebo Samuel has made quite the stride in his third NFL season, as he's already caught 54 passes for 979 yards and seven total touchdowns through just nine games. Last year, Samuel had a mild sophomore season after an impressive rookie year due to a variety of hamstring injuries and a foot fracture, limiting the receiver to just seven games last season, in which he accumulated 33 receptions for 391 yards after a 57-catch, 802-yard rookie campaign. Deebo's rapport with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been made evident this year, best encapsulated by a specific play on Monday Night against the Rams in which the veteran quarterback trusted his receiver to make a play even before Samuel was



Jimmie Ward responds to Jerry Rice's comment that the 49ers have 'no dogs'

By Marc Adams
Nov 17

Last week, Hall of Famer Steve Young was a guest on KNBR's Tolbert, Krueger and Brooks Show. He spoke about talking (earlier that week) to Hall of Fame wide receiver, Jerry Rice, about what he [Rice] was thinking about the 49ers. This apparently took place the day after the San Francisco 49ers lost, in embarrassing fashion, to an Arizona Cardinals team that was missing many of their starters, including quarterback Kyle Murray. "I go, 'What do you think?'" Young said. "He goes, 'There's no dogs.' And I got to interpret that. There's no dogs on there. You watch the team go on, go off, everyone's like, 'OK.' Young went on to discuss how the 49ers' handling of the



No Huddle Podcast: Talking 49ers with Will Selva; Team finds its identity vs. Rams

By Site Staff
Nov 17

Will Selva from "Good Morning Football" joins the show to talk Niners with Al and Zain, and share the journey that led him to the popular NFL Network morning show. Plus: Did the 49ers finally find their identity? Appreciating Jimmie Ward Deebo Samuel's historic season The running back room You can listen to the latest "No Huddle Podcast" episode above, from our dedicated podcast page, on



Steve Young: 49ers find their dogs, Jimmy Garoppolo at his best

By David Bonilla
Nov 18

A week ago, Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young wondered if the San Francisco 49ers had any dogs on the team. A conversation with a former teammate and another Hall of Fame player, Jerry Rice, led Young to ponder the question. "There's no dogs," Rice told Young. Of course, that was coming off an embarrassing loss to an injury-depleted Arizona Cardinals team. The quarterback turned ESPN analyst, like fans, saw a completely different squad on Monday night against the Los Angeles Rams. It was a dominant performance that ended with a 31-10 upset win and Kyle Shanahan's fifth consecutive


Featured

More by Aaron Erickson

More Articles

Share 49ersWebzone