Aldon Smith made a major case for rookie of the year last year, with 17 sacks, 17 quarterback hits, and 43 quarterback pressures in 18 total games with the 49ers en route to the surprise berth in the NFC Championship game. 9 years out of 10, he probably wins that award, but his strong rookie year unfortunately coincided with Von Miller’s even stronger rookie year so Smith did not get that award.
However, as strong as Smith’s rookie year was, he was still just a situational player, splitting reps with Parys Haralson and playing primarily on passing downs. Of Smith’s 616 snaps in 2011, in 18 games, a remarkable 441 of them were rushing the passer, which is almost as much as an every down player (the opposite rush linebacker, Ahmad Brooks, rushed the passer 555 times on 1123 snaps). Smith was still incredibly efficient and graded out as one of the top pass rushers in the league on ProFootballFocus.
Heading into his 2nd season in the league, Smith is expected to take over an every down role as he gets a full offseason of reps in and a full offseason with the playbook. That was confirmed today by a report in the San Francisco Chronicle. Parys Haralson will play sparingly in 2012. It won’t mean a ton more pass rushing opportunities for Smith as Haralson only rushed the passer 176 times in 2012 and Smith could easily not match his outrageous pass rushing efficiency from 2012 (had a sack/hit/pressure on 17.5% of his pass rush attempts), so I’m not predicting an increase in pass rush production.
However, Smith will have to step in and become a more well rounded player. He played alright against the run in limited snaps last season, but Haralson still graded out better on ProFootballFocus. If he can improve that area of his game, his switch from part-time to full-time will have a positive impact on a San Francisco defense that already ranked 2nd in the league last year in points per game allowed (only .1 points more than #1 ranked Pittsburgh).