San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith has done nothing but surpass expectations since being drafted seventh overall two years ago. He was a runner-up for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2011 and set a franchise record for sacks (19.5) in 2012 while being named the team’s most valuable player by his coaches.
Not a bad start to what should be a lengthy and wildly successful NFL career.
As a rookie, Smith instantly terrorized opposing quarterbacks and did so in limited action. He racked up 14 sacks that season yet technically wasn’t even a starter, as he generally only entered the game on passing downs. Everybody knew leading up to the draft that Smith’s size and athleticism would allow him to thrive rushing the passer, but were unsure if he handle the responsibilities of becoming a full-time outside linebacker in the NFL.
Can he learn to defend the run in addition to being a force on passing downs?
There were some bumps along the way, but after becoming a starter in 2012, No. 99 proved he can handle anything thrown at him.
Smith saw twice as many defensive snaps in 2012 than he did as a rookie, and perhaps that is part of the reason he failed to record a sack the last six games of this past season (playoffs included). Obviously the triceps injury Justin Smith suffered played its part, too, but the youngster is only 23 and may have been overworked a bit.
Regardless of the fact that he didn’t finish as strong as he would’ve liked, Aldon’s 2012 campaign was a marvelous one. And he’s dedicating the upcoming offseason to making sure he comes out even stronger in 2013.
Aldon wasted no time after the Super Bowl loss to prepare for the upcoming season. He’s currently training with two-time Olympic wrestler and current UFC fighter Daniel Cormier, working to improve his cardio and strength to be better prepared for the double-teams that came at him in waves last season, and will again in 2013.
There isn’t much outside of a solid double-team that can stop No. 99. He’s already one of the NFL’s best pass-rushers and looks to be on the verge of becoming equally adept at stopping the run. The harder he works to become unstoppable in all aspects of his game, the better the 49ers will be for it.
Smith came oh-so-close to breaking Michael Strahan‘s sack record in 2012 before falling flat at the end of the season. He may not break it in 2013, either. But, by proving he’s willing to dedicate himself to becoming as well-rounded a player as possible, I’d say he’s on to bigger and better things.