Could the 49ers Overcome Aldon Smith's Potential Absence?

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Could the 49ers Overcome Aldon Smith's Potential Absence?
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

San Francisco 49ers pass-rushing demon Aldon Smith has done it again.

According to CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco, the 2011 first-round pick was arrested early Friday morning under suspicion of DUI. Maiocco later reported Smith was also charged with possession of marijuana.

This isn't Smith's first run-in with the law. In January of 2012, he was previously booked on DUI charges in Miami Beach, Fla.

While no one's sure how severe the NFL's penalties for Smith will be if and when they address the situation (per KTVU in San Francisco, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said Smith would play this Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts) let's examine how much of an impact Smith's eventual absence from the 49ers will be for the team. 

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Smith has appeared in all 34 games possible to start his professional career, so there's no way to track how San Francisco's defense has fared without him. However, it's not hard to believe that Smith will be difficult to replace. 

He's totaled 37 sacks since entering the league. After 31 solo tackles his rookie season, Smith had 48 solo takedowns in 2012.

Pro Football Focus (subscription required) graded him as the second-best 3-4 outside linebacker in 2011, and last season he was the No. 3-ranked 3-4 outside linebacker behind only Clay Matthews and Anthony Spencer, both of whom played a significantly lower amount of snaps.

Going a step further, here's how impactful Smith has been compared to his teammates:

Aldon Smith's 2011 Impact
Smith's Total Closest Performer Smith's Percentage of Team Total
Sacks 15 Justin Smith and Ray McDonald - 7 34.8%
QB Hits 13 Justin Smith - 14 22.4%
QB Hurries 36 Justin Smith - 48 17.3%

ProFootballFocus

Aldon Smith's 2012 Impact
Smith's Total Closest Performer Smith's Percentage of Team Total
Sacks 20 Ahmad Brooks - 7 48.7%
QB Hits 13 Ahmad Brooks - 10 35.1%
QB Hurries 39 Ray McDonald - 36 25.7%

ProFootballFocus

Most premier edge-rushers account for a somewhat similar percentage of their team's quarterback pressures, but are the necessary reinforcements on the 49ers roster? 

While Ahmad Brooks, a player capable of comfortably dropping into coverage and getting after the quarterback, has proven to be a fine outside linebacker in his own right, he feeds off Smith's presence on on the other side of the line. 

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Corey Lemonier, a rookie third-round pick from Auburn, has appeared in two games for the 49ers at outside linebacker but has played only seven snaps and has one assisted tackle, per Pro Football Focus.

Dan Skuta, a 2009 undrafted free agent, has seen the field for just six snaps and has two tackles this year. 

In short, San Francisco would greatly miss Aldon Smith's services. The only possible replacement who could contribute comparably to Smith is 2013 second-round selection Tank Carradine. 

However, he was placed on the NFI list before the season, which works works just like the PUP list. That means Carradine won't be eligible to play until Week 7. Here's a pre-draft comparison of Smith and Carradine:

Comparing Tank Carradine to Aldon Smith (Pre-Draft)
Height Weight 40-Yard Dash Time Collegiate Tackles For Loss Collegiate Sacks
Tank Carradine 6'4'' 276 4.75 21 16.5
Aldon Smith 6'4'' 263 4.78 23 14.5

NFL.com and SportsReference.com

In reality, the 49ers probably won't be able to bank on a rookie who's recovering from a torn ACL to instantly fill the shoes of one of the NFL's most prolific pass-rushers. 

If Smith serves a suspension during this season, San Francisco will simply not be as intimidating on defense. Fortunately, though, GM Trent Baalke has again positioned his team to have an abundance of selections in next year's draft. 

This is how the 49ers' 2014 draft looks:

49ers 2014 Draft Picks
Round 1 = Own
Round 2 = Own
Round 3 = Own
Round 3 = K.C.'s (Alex Smith trade; improves to Round 2 pick if Chiefs win eight games)
Round 3 = Tennessee's (2013 trade-down)
Round 4 = Own
Round 5 = Own
Round 6 = Own
Round 7 = Own
Round 7 = Carolina's (Colin Jones trade)
Round 7 = New Orleans' (Parys Haralson trade)
Round 7 = Indianapolis' (Cam Johnson trade)
Compensatory Pick = (Loss of Dashon Goldson; Round 3 or 4 pick)

NinersNation.com

San Francisco will have more than enough opportunities and ammunition to grab an elite pass-rushing prospect next May, should the front office feel so compelled.

While the 49ers are rightfully focusing on this season, with Aldon Smith's history of off-field troubles and the subsequent consequences that will come from those antics, there's a chance the team will be forced to address the edge-rusher position in the near future.

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