The San Francisco 49ers, a laughingstock of an organization for the past decade, will enter the 2012 season with huge expectations, after their surprising run to the NFC Conference Championship ended with a heart-wrenching loss to the eventual champions, the New York Giants.
More importantly, this is an organization that now has direction, under the stable leadership of Jim Harbaugh and general manager, Trent Baalke.
Jim Harbaugh's influence on this organization can't be overstated enough, but Baalke's presence has surely gone unnoticed by almost everyone outside of the Bay Area.
Baalke's draft selections over the last two years have been excellent to say the least, especially his selection of Aldon Smith in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
While 49ers fans were clamoring for a quarterback, possibly Blaine Gabbert, the other Missouri product, Baalke instead went unconventional and selected the talented pass rusher despite the dismay of analysts and fans alike.
Aldon Smith proved management correct after having one of the best rookie seasons for a defensive lineman/linebacker.
Smith fell short of Jevon Kearse's rookie record of 14.5 sacks, with an impressive 14 sacks of his own despite playing most of the season in a situational role.
The scary thought is that Aldon Smith could get even better in 2012, thanks to his versatile skill-set.