In light of the recent events involving Aldon Smith, many have begun to ask if the 49ers may target a pass-rusher in this year's NFL Draft. This is certainly a valid question, and I do think that the team is considering how to proceed with life after Aldon Smith. The key here is that this is about a man. I'm not sure anyone can predict what that man may or may not do again in the future, and given Smith's troubled past few years off the field, it's safe to say he could remove himself from the equation at any time.
As such, I figured we should take a look at some pass-rushers who may be available to the 49ers without a massive trade-up. With that in mind, I continue my scouting series today with a guy formerly of Auburn University: Dee Ford.
You'll notice I keep using the term "pass-rusher" instead of "outside linebacker". There's a reason for that. In fact, many forward-thinking Draftniks have begun to call these guys "edge players". Think about it: The 49ers do not run a traditional 3-4 where the OLBs do lots of linebacking duties, including running all over the field trying to cover guys in pass-routes, etc.
In fact, they drop their OLBs into coverage very rarely, with Ahmad Brooks doing so just 13.1% of snaps in 2013 and Aldon Smith seeing just 8.8% of his snaps in coverage. These guys are paid to rush the passer and disrupt the run game, plain and simple. We don't need to view them through the same lens of "all-around linebacker, pass-rusher extraordinaire" any more.
For that reason some may have overlooked Dee Ford, primarily a defensive end at Auburn. Still, I saw enough of him to feel very confident in his ability to play on the edge for the 49ers. Keep in mind, too, that playing "OLB" for the 49ers means you're a DE in sub packages, which are increasingly being used more than the base 3-4 formation.
Let's get into the nuts and bolts of Dee Ford:
Natural pas-rusher. This is where he is at home. Get's off the snap very quickly and times it up with impressive anticipation. Uses violent hands to punch and knock OL's hands away. Has little issue getting around the edge. Plays with a high motor.
Played primarily off the left side at Auburn but also came from multiple alignments such as the wide 9-technique, all the way to inside as the 5-tech. Played on the right side in the Senior Bowl and looked good there, as well.
Has a little Ahmad Brooks to his game in that he hits hard, tackles like he means it, bats down passes, etc. He breaks down well in space to tackle a runner, even with jukes presented. Looked fine dropping into coverage the few times he did so on tape.
Fails to disengage vs. the run at times, particularly against holds, which we know often go un-called. He mostly plays hard, but occasionally appears to be taking a play off. Unsure if it was lack of rotation or what. Some offsides concerns...guess he really IS like Brooks...
Ford is a legit first-round talent and I wouldn't hesitate to take him with the 30th pick, unless for some reason every single charge against Aldon Smith disappears, Ahmad Brooks takes a pay-cut and finds the Fountain of Youth, and Corey Lemonier provides a video from the future proving to us that he'll become a Pro Bowl caliber player.
I don't think you can count on Aldon to always be around, and if he does finally "get it", his price tag could be an issue, too. There's nothing wrong with thinking ahead at a key position, where the 49ers rely on pressure to cover up things in the back-end (like bargain-basement corners).