Each year, we like to run a series of posts called "90-in-90." The idea is that we'll take a look at every player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few ways. This roster will certainly change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not exactly 90 players in 90 days. At this point, it's a name we're keeping around for street cred.
Obviously, any discussion about San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker/defensive end Aldon Smith is going to be a complicated one. He's had multiple off-the-field issues and has been a public relations nightmare for the 49ers, but he's also been incredibly productive on the field. Plus, it's not as though Smith and the 49ers aren't attempting to get him on the right track -- they're not just putting their hands over their eyes and hoping the problem will go away.
Some will think the 49ers aren't doing enough, some will think none of this is a big deal. I'm somewhere in the middle, but the point of this post is to talk about where a player has been and where he's going, and I'm going to do my best with that.
Smith missed multiple games in 2013 due to a stint in rehab following an alcohol-related arrest. The NFL ended up not punishing Smith, as the 49ers took the initiative to get him into rehab. I think that was a solid move, though it wasn't exactly a lengthy stay. If you missed it, Bay Area Sports Guy had a great article on this last year.
When he actually saw the field, he was plenty effective, but that's essentially a given at this point, no?
Playing in 11 regular season games, Smith put up a total of 29 tackles and 8.5 sacks. For his career, he's got 110 tackles and a total of 42 sacks, with five forced fumbles. Those are huge numbers, and his 8.5 sacks in just 11 games would be a solid number for any slightly above-average pass-rusher over the course of a full season.
Of course, Smith wasn't great in every game. I wasn't particularly fond of his performance in the second game against the Seattle Seahawks, nor did he impress against the Atlanta Falcons -- two very crucial games that the 49ers did happen to win, however. I didn't notice Smith look particularly poor at any point last season, save for, you know, the five games in which he did not play.
After seeing Smith play 16 games in each of his first two seasons, 2013 was a considerable let-down. He definitely has only himself to blame, and clearly got in his own way. Whether or not that will change going forward is basically entirely up to him (well, provided he can avoid league or team punishment for incidents that have already happened.)
Why he might improve:
Smith will turn 25 during the 2014 season, and if he's playing a full season or at least most of it, continuing to improve as a pass-rusher is definitely a possibility. Heck, if he actually does get to play a good amount of time I'm not sure how he could go without improving. He's too young and too skilled to have peaked, but at this point, a whole lot has to go right for him to be in a good spot to actually show his improvement.
Why he might regress:
I suppose this is kind of obvious, no? Smith could miss even more time in comparison to last season, and the time he doesn't miss could easily be clouded by distractions. I can't claim any kind of knowledge about Smith's mindset right now or what it will be during the upcoming season, but there's a lot going on with him. That's a lot of pressure from a lot of different fronts and whether or not he's strong enough to overcome that is up in the air. I don't think he's going to wake up one day and not know how to play football, but these things can have a deep impact on his play.
Odds of making the roster:
Unless Smith goes out and does another stupid thing, he's on this roster in 2014. Again, whether or not he's actually active is anybody's guess. But his spot on the roster is very safe, as is his spot in the starting lineup when he's able to play. Don't worry about that at all.