No. 2: Linebacker Malcolm Smith
With each passing week, it’s looking more and more like the 49ers’ big defensive free-agent pickup from 2017, linebacker Malcolm Smith, has become a bust.
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First, Smith missed all of last year with a pectoral injury. OK, it’s hard to fault him for that. But after finally solidifying a role in 2018, Smith’s injuries continued to plague him early. And by that point, he lost a good number of his starting chances to fellow linebackers Reuben Foster and Fred Warner.
To date, Smith has just three starts this season. Not exactly the biggest return on a five-year, $26.5 million deal.
A relatively crowded linebacker corps pushed Smith into a strong-side linebacker spot — a position he hadn’t played much since his days with the Seattle Seahawks. Then a shoulder injury to Foster, which kept him out Weeks 9 and 10, put Smith back into the weak-side linebacking role.
Either way, Smith has still shown issues in coverage, which wasn’t his strength before signing with San Francisco anyway.
And if the Niners are able to upgrade the SAM linebacker spot this offseason, Smith will be relegated to a reserve role behind both Foster and Warner, who are bigger keys to the team’s defensive future.