San Francisco 49ers: 5 Bold Predictions for Rookie Aldon Smith in 2011
They have a solid nucleus in place, added some fresh new talent through the draft, and are expected to continue in free agency.
A significant part of how far they go next year will depend on the production of first-round draft choice Aldon Smith.
The team selected him with the seventh overall pick in the draft, so obviously they believe in him.
I'll admit I wasn't a huge supporter of the pick, but nevertheless, here are five bold predictions for Aldon Smith in 2011.
Aldon Smith Will Be a Starter
You've got to think, well shouldn't the seventh overall pick in the draft be starting as a given? Not necessarily, but Aldon Smith enters a situation where he'll be given an opportunity early.
Manny Lawson is poised to be a free agent, and after putting up a mere 2.5 sacks last season, it's unlikely that they'll bring him back. In fact, that's probably the reason they drafted Smith in the first place.
They've got Parys Haralson and Ahmad Brooks waiting on the roster, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Smith pull ahead in the training camp competition.
Plus, with an enormous sum of money guaranteed to go to him, they probably can't afford to keep him on the bench.
Aldon Smith Will Have 8+ Sacks
For any rookie, there's always a learning curve, which is why we seldom see them play at a Pro Bowl level in their first year.
Sure, Ndamukong Suh had an incredibly impressive 10-sack campaign as a rookie last season, but he's an exception.
For most, eight sacks or more is a good benchmark to set and I believe Smith has what it takes to get there.
Aldon Smith Will Lead the Team in Sacks
The 49ers have been one of the better teams in the league in terms of getting after the quarterback. Sure, they slipped a bit last year with only 36, but for the most part, that's an area where they've excelled.
However, instead of having an elite force off the edge, they've relied on a cumulative effort from a variety of players.
Last year, their team leader was Justin Smith with 8.5, and considering that was a career high, the odds are against him replicating that.
With that being so, it opens up the door for Aldon Smith to possibly claim that title, even if he just registers the 8+ I project him to have.
Aldon Smith Will Be Among Top 5 Rookies
There are a lot of talented rookies in this year's class and a lot of them could make an immediate impact next year.
The question is, will Aldon Smith be one of the best?
In my opinion, I wouldn't be too shocked to see him finish among the top five and possibly even be in contention for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
He's got a lot of competition already from his division alone in Patrick Peterson and Robert Quinn, but there's no limit to what he can accomplish.
Aldon Smith Will Be a Pro Bowler
Pro Bowl rush linebackers often have 12+ sacks, so it's highly unlikely that Aldon Smith will be elected to that honor next year.
But then again, who knows? Maybe he surprises us all.
There's no denying his skills; he should be given the playing time he needs to make an impact, and the 49ers have a relatively easy schedule. That plus more all create the recipe for a Pro Bowl season.