Niners hope Smith fills major need for stud sacker

Posted April 28, 2011 @ 10:24 p.m.
Posted By Dan Arkush

Another year, another huge need for a potent pass rusher off the edge with double-digit sack potential.

So it goes for the Niners, who hope Missouri's raw but unbelievably talented Aldon Smith finally satisfies a need that has been huge for the last decade or so.

Entering the offseason, the Niners had a four-man OLB rotation of Manny Lawson, Parys Harlson, Ahmad Brooks and Travis LaBoy. While they all displayed flashes, none of them provided a consistent pass rush. Lawson, a former first-round pick who was billed as a top-flight sacker, is a free agent widely considered to have worn out his welcome.

Enter Smith, who along with another Niners defender with the same last name, first name Justin, suddenly gives new San Francisco defensive coordinator Vic Fangio some real potential pass-rushing firepower from both edges.

Smith has moved up the charts big-time in recent days, standing out in one of the best D-end crops in decades as the one player at the position with the fewest issues.

Yes, his numbers dipped in 2010 at Mizzou as he played with a fractured fibula. But his natural talent is immense, and he should benefit greatly from learning the nuances of the pro game from Fangio, who ranks right up there with Dick LeBeau and Dom Capers in the 3-4 guru department.

Smith also offers versatility and is good at dropping into coverage — tailor-made qualities for the creative, multiple-package defense Fangio has in mind.

So what's next for the Niners?

While quarterbacks are coming off the board at a rapid clip, look for new head coach Jim Harbaugh to set his sights on that position in Round Two.

A former first-round QB himself, Harbaugh is confident he can mold a signalcaller such as Andy Dalton, Rick Stanzi or Colin Kaepernick into a solid pro in short order.

Thursday night, though, he was simply enjoying the rush of getting an exciting young defender who should provide a major impact right away.