2016 NFL Draft: Assessing San Francisco 49ers’ Best Round 1 Options
By Peter Panacy
Linebacker Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame
The 49ers have a gaping hole at inside linebacker alongside Pro Bowler NaVorro Bowman, and it’s clear that void won’t be filled by incumbents like Michael Wilhoite or Gerald Hodges. Not as starters anyway.
San Francisco’s defense needs to get better up the middle as was the case in the days with Bowman and retired linebacker Patrick Willis. And selecting Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith could be the perfect mix of coverage skills and tackling prowess.
At 6’2″ and 235 pounds, Smith possesses the ideal size and ability to both cover opponents’ receiving targets and hit ball-carriers at the point of attack. He registered 284 tackles — 23.5 of them for a loss — over three seasons with the Fighting Irish.
Yet a knee injury late in the season last year will raise numerous questions heading into the draft. And it will likely drop his draft stock.
If so, the 49ers may be able to trade down in the draft, select Smith and stockpile additional picks they’ll need.
STRENGTHS: He is a greased up athlete with natural twitch and flexibility, showing balance, burst and excellent speed in pursuit. Scouts are enthralled with Smith’s explosiveness and it isn’t difficult to understand why.
He reads plays quickly and keeps his eyes glued on the ball to collect himself in space and burst toward the ballcarrier with excellent closing speed. Shows tremendous secondary quickness to unhook himself from blocks and make up ground in a flash.
He might be the nation’s most forceful tackler, generating incredible power to knock ballcarriers back. Smith is every bit as fast and fluid as he is powerful, however, slipping by (or leaping over) would-be blockers in the running game and dropping effectively in coverage.
WEAKNESSES: Smith lacks elite take-on strength for the position and can be late to stack-and-shed.
— Rob Rang and Dane Brugler, CBS Sports
Why He Fits:
Again, the 49ers need help along the interior of their defense. And the addition of a player like Smith would take a lot of pressure off Bowman as he continues to strengthen his surgically repaired knee.
Smith has the potential to be a stalwart member of any defense. At best, he would ease a lot of the pain 49ers fans suffered when Willis retired. He also projects to be an every-down linebacker and a leader of a young and developing defense.
Why He Doesn’t:
The injury concerns are the big question here. All too many of general manager Trent Baalke’s injury picks haven’t panned out in a San Francisco uniform. And there is the possibility Smith falls into that same category.
Paying close attention to medical analysis and Smith’s recovery will be a key focal point for the Niners’ scouts between now and the draft should the Notre Dame prospect be on the team’s radar.
Next: WR Laquon Treadwell