Aldon Smith burst onto the scene after being drafted in the first round by the San Francisco 49ers in 2011. The Missouri product made an immediate impact, recording 14 sacks in his first season and an astounding 19.5 in 2012. However, his budding career has taken a temporary detour after a second DUI arrest in as many years.
According to Jason La Canfora, Smith will miss some time this season:
Even after Smith is ready to return to the 49ers after satisfying his legal obligations and completing his counseling, he will most likely still face a suspension from the NFL. This leaves the 49ers with some very large shoes to fill in the meantime.
Currently, San Francisco has three viable in-house options to fill the void left by Smith at outside linebacker.
Veteran Dan Skuta arrived in San Francisco after spending his first four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. Mostly a special teams contributor while in Cincinnati, Skuta never found himself in a position to make an impact on the defensive side of the ball.
The little time that he did see at linebacker was in a 4-3 system that did not require him to rush the passer. Skuta has only half a sack in five NFL seasons. To his credit, he is a sure tackler—which is why he has been such a valuable asset on special teams—and has three career forced fumbles.
Despite these fine attributes, Skuta just does not have a similar skill set to Smith. His lack of explosiveness as a pass-rusher would still leave the 49ers at a disadvantage in that area.
Unfortunately for the 49ers, this is not an immediate option as a replacement for Smith. Tank Carradine was placed on the NFI list during training camp due to his continued recovery from surgery after an ACL tear.
Carradine has been receiving therapy and is well on his way to being ready to hit the field for the first time in an NFL uniform. However, he will not be eligible to join the active roster until after Week 6.
One of the most explosive defensive ends in the 2013 NFL draft, Carradine made his name as a pass-rusher while at Florida State. His incredible burst off the line of scrimmage along with his low pad level make him a threat to find the backfield on every down.
Carradine recorded 11 sacks in 2012 before his injury and, depending on how quickly he can pick up the 49ers' defensive scheme, could be an immediate contributor. Despite his seemingly perfect fit as a replacement for Smith, San Francisco still needs an answer for another three weeks.
In what may be the best immediate bet for the 49ers, Corey Lemonier is Smith's backup on the team's official depth chart. Lemonier played defensive end while at Auburn, but his long, 6'3", 255-pound frame makes him a perfect candidate to stand up as an outside linebacker in the pros.
A good motor and pure athleticism were two reasons why Lemonier totaled 17 sacks and seven forced fumbles over his three-year collegiate career. If his skills can translate to the NFL level, the 49ers could have an immediate fix, though doubts about him transitioning smoothly are why he fell to the third round.
After a glowing preseason, however, it seemed as though Lemonier may have grasped the 49ers' defensive system enough to be a viable component while Smith misses time.
So, why are these the only options for the 49ers at this point?
Back in August, they traded long-time contributor Parys Haralson to the New Orleans Saints for a conditional seventh-round pick.
Of course, it is easy to look back and say that this was a bad decision on the 49ers' part—the lack of experience behind Smith right now is unsettling. However, there was simply no telling that Smith would reoffend.
Haralson's 22.5 career sacks would certainly be a welcomed sight in San Francisco right now, but the 49ers decided they could part ways with the seven-year veteran linebacker after a recent injection of youth at his position.
We are about to find out if that gamble will pay dividends when the 49ers take on the St. Louis Rams on Thursday Night Football.
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