It's unanimous: the San Francisco 49ers selecting Aldon Smith, the outside linebacker out of Missouri, with the seventh overall pick was absolutely surprising in almost every way. Nobody was thinking Smith, very few were even considering the position at that point, in fact. Now, looking back, I think the latter is actually really silly. I think we all knew that Blaine Gabbert was never in the discussion, and when it came down to it, it was all about defense. The 49ers were most likely to take Prince Amukamara, at least that's what the general consensus was. A lot of people thought they were going to make a trade. I thought they might trade, personally, but with all this talk about Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh, we seem to have forgotten the guy who probably had a lot to do with this pick ...
I'm talking, of course, about new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. We all knew that the 49ers significantly needed a cornerback and an outside linebacker, but failed to really put those needs in the perspective of Fangio. He's a coordinator who's defense is predicated on movement and aggression more than anything, and when I put it that way, the fact that an outside linebacker came before a cornerback is not the least bit surprising. When it comes to which outside linebacker, that point was obviously up for debate, but that's not the point here.
The 49ers really only have one outside linebacker who is starting caliber right now, and that's Parys Haralson. When it comes to cornerbacks, at least Nate Clements and Shawntae Spencer have shown at least flashes of ability at their positions, and could potentially look better with an improved pass rush (and solid progression from the safeties on the back end) ... so what do you do? You take an outside linebacker, a guy who can get to the quarterback and be the catalyst for your movement and aggression-based defense.
So it's really not all that surprising when you use hindsight ... especially because Smith is considered one of the better outside linebacker prospects. Fangio wanted the position, and Baalke went out and got the guy he thought fit best. Pretty darn simple.