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2011 NFL Draft: Mel Kiper's Impact Rookies Include Aldon Smith, Kendall Hunter

Now that the 2011 NFL Draft is complete, everybody in the media and blogosphere is using this downtime to come up with some unreasonable expectations for this year's draft class. Given the transitions these players are making in the NFL, we could very well just be throwing darts while blindfolded. Some players might be a little easier to project than others, but even still virtually every player in this draft has some kind of question mark next to him.

Nonetheless, that won't stop me from enjoying his inclusion of 49ers rookies Aldon Smith and Kendall Hunter on his list of potential rookie impact players (Insider protected). Kiper broke things down by each day of the draft, so round one, rounds two and three, and rounds four through seven. In his list he had Aldon Smith with a more thorough analysis, and Kendall Hunter as a notable player.

After the jump I focus in on his Smith comments. As for Hunter, I do think he'll be able to make an immediate impact as he battles Anthony Dixon for playing time. However, given Frank Gore's desire to maximize his time on the field and his past as a work horse, it will be interesting to see how much opportunity Hunter gets in 2011. Of course, given the significant injury Gore suffered this past year, Hunter and Dixon both might find themselves carrying the ball a good deal more than 49ers backup RBs have in recent years.

Kiper went into a bit more detail in discussing Aldon Smith. He listed him as a defensive player with a strong chance at making an impact:

The impact: It's a different position, but this pick reminds me a little of the Raiders' taking Rolando McClain at No. 7 in last year's draft. Although McClain might have been available a little later, the Raiders knew they had a guy they could use right away. So even as a slight reach, when you get immediate help, it offsets any ounce of lost-pick value. Smith goes to a team that could use him right away at outside linebacker, and although his football ability needs refining, he's physically ready to make plays at a position of need.

The hurdle: Smith is gifted athletically, but his game has a lot of growth left. Jim Harbaugh clearly sees him as a fit, but Smith won't be asked simply to pin his ears back and rush the passer; he'll also need to read the NFL game.

He is a fairly raw player with "developmental" and "project" attached to him by some. However, his situation would seem well suited for significant playing time. Manny Lawson and Travis LaBoy are both free agents. LaBoy could be back in 2011, but if the team brings back Manny Lawson, I'd assume the 49ers would let LaBoy walk and work Smith into the rotation in LaBoy's previous role. And if Manny Lawson and Travis LaBoy both walk, things open even more. Ahmad Brooks, Aldon Smith and Parys Haralson would be splitting up a good deal of playing time between the three of them.

Although Aldon Smith has a lot of work in front of him, he is coming into a situation where he can get a lot of playing time without being completely overwhelmed by his role. I have to think that is a strong step in the right direction for a transitioning player. He has a lot to prove, but it seems like he'll get every opportunity to do so on the field from day one.