Linebacker Aldon Smith has come on strong for the San Francisco 49ers as a starter in 2012. Since Week 1 of his rookie preseason, Smith has been a consistent presence every time he's stepped on the field. He burst onto the scene in his first year as a situational player, and has been impressive as a starter thus far.
This is the first time this decade that the 49ers have had above average play from the outside linebacker position.
Smith has been a tremendous upgrade to the outside linebacker position. He finds different ways to beat his opponents, and makes even established veterans look foolish at times.
He tires out his opponent with his agility, power and motor, which is a pretty rare combination. We have seen this guy be maniacal and relentless throughout the course of a game, continually harassing the opposing team's quarterback.
And while Smith is not really a sideline-to-sideline guy, his burst and explosiveness makes him extremely effective at locking down one side of the field.
Aldon has 4.5 sacks this year, currently averaging over 1 per game. Smith is on pace for 18 sacks this season, which would be four more than he achieved as a rookie. He should have at least 6.5 though, since two were negated by penalties (unsportsmanlike conduct vs. GB and Tarell Brown holding vs. NYJ).
It's also difficult to decide when he's better: standing up or with his hand in the ground?
After watching film, it doesn't seem that it really matters. With Aldon Smith, it's all about pursuit and functionality. I doubt Smith really cares whether he's upright or in sprinter stance; what matters to him is what happens after the snap.
Smith can be effective rushing because he go around guys or go through them.
As a defender who engages his opponent, Smith maintains total control and disengages at will. His long arms keeps blockers at bay while he reads the play happening in front of him. The moment he's diagnosed the run or quickest route to the QB, Smith sheds his blocker and makes a play on the ball.
And for a young player, his patience is impressive - understanding the mental aspect of the game, and not trying to use his body to do everything. This balance of physical ability and a cerebral approach makes him a very well rounded player.
And aside from rushing the passer, Smith's become efficient running down the ball carrier. He tracks the ball and gets in the backfield with such efficiency, that he's always a threat to cut the play off at the head.
Smith's agility allows him to be a nightmare when stunting. His lateral quickness is so rapid of the snap, and he locates the gaps in the line so fast that is hardly allows a chance for the offense.
He is also effective dipping that inside shoulder as an edge rusher. Smith is a rare breed in that he is a finesse rusher with overbearing strength.
Another thing about the second-year man is his balance while he's in pursuit. He maintains a blind focus on getting from point A to point B by any means necessary, and taking the quickest possible route there. A lot of times, blockers who can't handle Smith's strength want to use his own momentum against him and do that by going low.
Whenever he is jarred off-balance, Smith uses his long arms like a third and fourth leg, and keeps moving forward. It's uncanny; especially when the only time you usually see that is from running backs.
The point is, Aldon Smith is well on his way to being one of the league's more unstoppable skill players. He is a force to watch grow in the NFL, and a rising star in this San Francisco defense.