The Aldon Smith Choice

This post was written by Peter Babb


Sometimes it takes awhile to collect your thoughts about a draft, or really, anything.  By the time I came to grips with Aldon Smith, it seemed everything conceivable had been written about him.  Finally, I came to this question: would Aldon Smith have been a fit with Coach Bill Walsh’s 49ers?

We have to start with this disclaimer from Coach Walsh:

And yes, there were some draft choices who simply couldn’t cut it as an NFL player.  Thank goodness, there weren’t too many – otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this book.

In the draft that produced Joe Montana and Dwight Clark, the 49ers first choice was a running back from UCLA named James Owens.  Owens, who played hard, didn’t come close to making that Hall of Fame.  But, a project player named Joe Montana did.

So, for everyone who wonders if the 49ers got value in 2011, a term to be sick and tired of, because almost everyone who uses it has no idea of just what it means, for everyone who moans that this draft had too many project players, I say, you might be right, but I think you’re wrong.  There’s a James Owens in every draft—will there be a Montana to Clark as well?

Regarding the draft, Coach Walsh also pointed out that:

Deciding whether an individual is a “good” draft choice is a subjective matter.  Different people use different criteria when addressing this issue.

For example, many sports writers tend to believe that if an individual is selected in the first or second round of the draft, then that athlete should meet Pro Bowl standards.  In reality, such a perception is neither warranted nor reasonable.

Personally, I believe a more objective, realistic approach to assessing the value of a particular draft choice involves looking at his specific effect on the team.

At first I was astonished by the choice of Aldon Smith.  Mel Kipper, and other experts, and myself, for that matter, favored Robert Quinn as a disruptive rusher, so what happened?  As to Mel Kipper, how does an expert give the 49ers a “C+” draft grade, yet also identify Aldon Smith as his frontrunner for Defensive Rookie of the Year?  That’s right, when asked if Patrick Peterson was a lock for DRY, in his final chat about the 2011 draft Mel chose Aldon Smith.  Wait, Mel, you think the 49ers chose the best defensive player in the draft, but you bestowed a “C+” grade.  That makes no sense.  So, stop having a crisis, fans – no one in the media knows.

However, this is what Pro Football Weekly quoted an anonymous scout saying when analyzing Aldon Smith:

Aldon Smith does not know what he is doing yet, but he has the explosive (movement).  He gets inside – and that’s really where they put him a lot – he can outquick guys on the inside … If you’re looking for a speed rusher, he’s the guy.

So, we can see the thinking:  a pressure OLB trumps a CB, and as good as Prince Amukaaura may prove to be, at corner he’s not as valuable as a disruptive speed rusher.  If you don’t get that, you’re that fantasy football lover who lusted after Julio Jones.  Good luck Atlanta and Jones, at least until the playoffs, because Smith has a much better chance of being a game changer than Jones.  For 2011, it’s all going to boil down to how well the coaching and scheme set Aldon Smith up to succeed.  He will make mistakes, but if coached well he will also make a few season changing plays.  That’s called, “… specific effect on the team.”

Smith played half of last season on a mending broken leg – he came back just three weeks after breaking it.  You can coach a man who has that kind of desire.  How many physically gifted players never make it because it’s all about them?  Aldon Smith wants to be on the field, and that’s who you want on the 49ers.

Some people are rationalizing passing on Robert Quinn, saying that he made a mistake with an agent and that he has the brain tumor issue, so that’s why he dropped in the draft, but I don’t think that was it at all.  Quinn was a safe pick in the fickle court of public opinion, but I wonder if Aldon Smith won’t end up being a high impact player as a rookie, someone the experts missed on, something like DeSean Jackson, except this time the 49ers got him.

So ignore the “Did the 49ers get ‘value’?” questions regarding Aldon Smith.  He’s going to be good in 2011, and then he’s going to get better.

My father once won tickets in a charity raffle to a Monday night Giants—49ers game in 1985, just after they’d won a second Super Bowl, 50 yard line, and he gave them to me and my brother.  I will never forget this “fan” behind us who watched the game on a portable TV, never once yelled or jumped up, and moaned endlessly about James Owens.

So, James Owens was the first round pick the year Coach Walsh also chose Joe Montana.  Owens didn’t pan out – Montana was the greatest quarterback in NFL history.  Did that make Coach Walsh’s draft a failure?  All I know is that two Super Bowl championships later, this “fan” hadn’t gotten over it.  As Coach Walsh knew, Aldon Smith doesn’t have to dominate the league and be an immediate All-Pro in 2011 to be a great draft pick who helps win games.  In his advice about the draft, Coach Walsh pointed out:

During the time I coached the 49ers, we drafted several players whom I considered to be good draft choices, including Jim Stuckey, Earl Cooper, Todd Shell, Dan Stubbs, Larry Roberts, and Craig Puki.  Although these individuals were instrumental in the 49ers three Super Bowl victories during the period, they were never Pro Bowl selections.  These athletes were the “guts” of our teams, yet were never acknowledged by the media as meaningful draft choices.

Aldon Smith has the feel of a classic “guts” of the team 49er draft choice.  And maybe more …

After that 1985 game, two things happened:  one, Randy Cross, speaking for the players, complained in the next morning’s newspaper about the passiveness of the 49er fans during a huge game, and two, I have never since attended a 49er game unless I was in the end zone bleachers, where the passionate fans let loose.

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Tags: Aldon Smith NFL Draft 2011 San Francisco 49ers

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