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What do we make of Aldon Smith when Justin Smith retires?

The San Francisco 49ers await word on Justin Smith's retirement decision. Whether it happens this year or next year, eventually Aldon Smith will have to play without Justin Smith on the defensive line. What will it mean for Aldon?

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The San Francisco 49ers added depth to their pass rush in the 2015 NFL Draft, but they will be looking for plenty from starting outside linebacker Aldon Smith. When Smith returned from his suspension a year ago, he had two sacks against Washington, but otherwise could not close the deal in his seven games on the field.

While he did not get the sacks, his performance was not all for naught. He had 24 quarterback pressures on the season, according to Pro Football Focus. That number actually prorates out to a career high in PFF-measured pressures. In 2012, when he finished with 19.5 sacks, PFF listed him as having 48 pressures in the regular season. There is always more context to consider in a QB pressure, but it is still an interesting number to consider.

Back in 2012, Aldon Smith put on a show, finishing with 19.5 sacks. That number put him second in the league to J.J. Watt, who finished with 20.5 sacks. Over at Football Perspective, Chase Stuart decided to put single season sack performances in better context. He ranked out single-season sack performances adjusted for a given era. Sack rates have been steadily declining over the years, and so Stuart adjusted for era, team and opposing team drop backs each player was involved in.

Aldon Smith's 19.5 sack performance in 2012 is tied for 12th on the single season sack list. He is tied with Robert Mathis (2013), Tim Harris (1989) and Demarcus Ware (2011). In FP's adjusted performance, Smith still ranks No. 12, but the players around him are adjusted. Michael Strahan holds the single season sack record, but FP's adjustment drops him to fifth. The biggest gainer based on this adjustment is Jared Allen's 15.5-sack performance in 2007. It tied for 62nd in the regular chart, but climbed to fourth on FP's chart. The biggest drop belongs to Lawrence Taylor. In 1986, he finished with 20.5 sacks, which was good for a tie for seventh on the single season list. On FP's list, that season ranked 59th.

I found the article interesting in the way it attempts to contextualize single season sack performances, but really it was just another chance to talk about Aldon Smith. When he has been on the field he has been an impact player. He was a pass rush monster in 2012, and the 49ers will be counting on some semblance of that in 2015.

We don't know yet if Justin Smith will return for another season. If he does, that bodes well for Aldon. If Justin does not return however, it opens the door for questions about what to expect from Aldon. We know Aldon Smith is an athletic freak, but he benefited greatly from Justin Smith's strong performance on the defensive line. Even without getting into the off-field issues, this season could become big question mark for what Aldon Smith will bring to the table without Justin Smith. The talent is there to still be a dynamic presence, but how will he perform if his favorite running mate is not around?