On paper, the San Francisco 49ers have what may be the best outside linebacking corps of any 3-4 defense in the NFL. Ahmad Brooks is coming off a career year of 8.5 sacks and is locked up for another four years. Opposite of him is 24-year old Aldon Smith, who’s racked up a jaw-dropping 42 sacks in his first three seasons in the league. Yet still, the ‘Niners should think long and hard about adding another pass rushing presence off the edge via the 2014 NFL Draft.
With such impressive production from the unit it may be hard to understand why they should add another OLB in the draft. Then you pick up the paper and see Smith in the headlines once again for a boneheaded mistake. Most recently he was arrested at the airport for claiming he had a bomb on him (which thankfully he didn’t). Really? A bomb threat? At an AIRPORT? Obviously he hasn’t learned anything from 9/11, or else he might understand the stupidity behind his error.
But this isn’t an isolated event, nor did it happen in a vacuum. He’s obviously been pegged as one of the building blocks for the franchise, yet he won’t embrace the role. Besides his bomb threat, he’s recently been accused of three felony counts of illegal possession of an assault weapon, twice been busted for a DUI and even checked himself out of rehab after three days. It’s one headache after another for the incredibly talented pass rusher.
At some point, the 49ers may decide enough is enough. If he’s not suspended, he’s usually in the clink. He’s not reliable and this industry has too much money involved to invest a chunk of it in someone who’s a constant problem off the field and in the headlines for the wrong reasons. With 2015 the last year of his deal, it could be the last year with San Francisco too.
Take away Smith and what does SF have? A 30-year Brooks who’s found much of his success against single protection playing opposite the constantly doubled-Smith. He’s solid, but who knows how effective he’d be as the primary pass rusher.
Behind Smith and Brooks is Corey Lemonier and Dan Skuta. Lemonier was a third rounder last year and didn’t contribute much in 2013, so the jury is still out on him. He’s shown flashes of potential, but he’s an unproven commodity. Skuta has a half sack in 5 seasons in the NFL. That should tell you all you need to know.
The draft is full of interesting pass rushing options, some of whom have experience in an odd front, some who don’t. Jerry Attaochu (Georgia Tech), Demarcus Lawrence (Boise State) and Kyle Van Noy (BYU) would be interesting options at the end of round one, or SF could trade back to the early second with someone looking to jump the gun on the second tier of QBs. Some good mid-round options include Adrian Hubbard (Alabama) and Trent Murphy (Stanford), two guys with a ton of experience in a 3-4 scheme.
I’m not saying they necessarily pull a Philly and just abruptly throw one of the best players on the open market, but they may not want to invest a ton of money in such an unreliable guy. If that’s the case, they’ll need a replacement to generate the constant pressure Smith applied that helped the defense run so smoothly and create so much havoc. Even if they do re-sign Smith, they may not want to pay Brooks his $8 million plus cap hit in 2015 and 16.
Whether it’s for temporary depth or finding an heir apparent, OLB shouldn’t be overlooked by SF on draft day.