Each year, we run a series of post called "90-in-90" here at Niners Nation. The idea is that we'll take a look at every single player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few different ways. This is to help give everyone a basic understanding of a roster. Of course, this roster will change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not strictly one per day but Fooch is a crazy person who manages this blog with no rhyme or reason and it's worked so far. Who am I to argue?
Is it possible for a single player to be both one of the most dominant forces in recent memory and also kind of a disappointment? If it is, that player has to be San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith. I've tried to properly articulate my thoughts on Smith and justifying the word "disappointment" and my point hasn't always come across but I'll say it again.
No, Smith is not disappointing from a talent perspective and no the 49ers did not make a mistake from a scouting perspective by drafting him. And it's because of his obvious superiority on the field that I think it's so disappointing that we spend so little time actually highlighting that stuff. Smith's on-the-field product hasn't been the main event in his career in two full seasons.
The man put up 33.5 sacks in two seasons, playing all 16 games in each of those seasons. That's the kind of stuff that makes you one of the most talked-about players in the NFL, but that quickly became secondary to his off-the-field issues. He made a lot of mistakes, and was punished for them. The 49ers were punished for those mistakes as a result.
We've seen the kind of damage Smith can do on the field, and the 49ers have as well. I'm going to continue being hard on Smith for the fact that we've received so little return on the investment relative to what he's able to deliver. But that doesn't mean I don't think that he is in the process of or has already turned his life around. I don't know if Smith will make those kinds of decisions again. But I do know that he seems to be on the right track.
And that brings us to the football field in 2015. Smith is set to be one of the starters at outside linebacker, opposite ... somebody. It will actually be interesting to see how he responds to playing alongside someone other than Justin Smith. I don't subscribe to the theory that Smith only found his success due to the other Smith taking up extra blockers and generally creating chaos. Smith is obviously very talented on his own and I think that will show.
We can't say the 49ers aren't set at the position just because he's had some off-the-field issues. That's reductive reasoning, and not terrible tangible when it comes to making actual, factual predictions. What I know is that Smith is an incredibly talented, young player who should be among the league's best next season. If he does something to screw that up, that's really something neither you nor I can claim we really saw coming. I'm not worried about the position going forward.
Why he might improve:
We should see an improvement on the stat sheet regardless of what happens, given he only played in seven games last season. In those seven games, he wasn't particularly great either, looking rusty at times. He had 15 tackles and two sacks. There's room for all kinds of improvement. He should play a full season in 2015, he should have no problems grasping the defense of Jim Tomsula and Eric Mangini's making and he's still just 25 years old, after all. There's plenty of room for him to improve and be the player 49ers fans think he can be.
Why he might regress:
While I'm not personally worried about Justin Smith's retirement as it pertains to Aldon Smith's production, plenty of people are and I'm no stranger to being wrong. I think if Smith struggles -- independent of any off-the-field issues -- then the biggest culprit could be the player next to him. Obviously, it's on those linebackers to work around that stuff, but it's still worth noting. Maybe Justin Smith was just that good at grabbing onto a pair of dudes and dragging them at a quarterback.
Odds of making the roster:
So this is an interesting one, isn't it? Obviously, talent-wise, Aldon would be welcome on any roster in the NFL. The 49ers would do well to try and get him signed to a contract extension ... with a lot of language about off-the-field issues. He's a 100 percent lock to make the roster unless something weird happens off the field, or if the 49ers feel there's potential for something to happen based on whatever it is they detect around him. I imagine if that was a thing though, they'd already know about it. Aldon is here to stay. Unless aliens.