Why Aldon Smith Is the Next Charles Haley, Only Better

Phil GCorrespondent IDecember 3, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 7:  Linebacker Aldon Smith #99 of the San Francisco 49ers amps up the crowd against the Buffalo Bills in the first quarter on October 7, 2012 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California.  The 49ers won 45-3.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

With the seventh pick in the 2011 NFL draft, the San Francisco 49ers select...Aldon Smith, DE, out of the University of Missouri.

Who knew Smith's name would eventually be mentioned with the likes of Reggie White and 49er greats Fred Dean and Charles Haley.

Initial reactions by fans: great player but doesn't fit the scheme. Can he play outside linebacker? How long will it take for him to contribute? Why not a quarterback?

All the spotlight was on Von Miller, who was drafted second overall by the Denver Broncos, but the better player dons the red and gold.  

Blaine Gabbert? Prince Amukamara? Fans clamored for these players, and yet, general manager Trent Baalke went unconventional and selected what some draft analysts would say was a "tweener" in Aldon Smith. 

It was a gutsy move, especially considering how bad the quarterback situation was in San Francisco in 2010. Troy Smith, I repeat, Troy Smith was the starting quarterback for much of the 2010 NFL season. 

Where is Troy Smith? Last time I checked, he wasn't playing in the National Football League. Quarterback was a need, but Baalke veered away from the obvious choice in Blaine Gabbert and instead took a chance with the upside of Aldon Smith.

And, man, did Baalke roll right.

No point in further criticizing Blaine Gabbert, and it's not because I believe the former Missouri quarterback is a bust. In fact, I believe Gabbert can be a serviceable starter in this league. With the right coaching and necessary weapons, Gabbert should improve. Wouldn't be surprised to see a Pro Bowl invite in the future. However, his upside is limited to just that.

Aldon Smith on the other hand is destined for a bust in the Hall of Fame. Which brings me to my point: Why should Smith be simply compared to the great Charles Haley? Why can't he be better?

I mean no disrespect to Charles Haley, who was considered one of the most feared pass-rushers off the edge the NFL has ever seen, however, Smith has the potential to surpass such greatness. Smith has the length, speed, strength, hands and any other physical characteristic needed to play 10, possibly 15, seasons in the NFL. 

He has the intelligence and smarts to play multiple positions along the defensive line, but his specialty is obviously off the edge.

You want production? After racking up 14.5 sacks in his rookie season, Aldon Smith has took his production to another level in his sophomore campaign, with 17.5 sacks in only 12 games. 

Records? After nearly breaking Jevon Kearse's rookie sack record last year, Smith has not only matched Fred Dean's 49ers single season record, but has surpassed the great Reggie White in terms of total sacks in a player's first two seasons. And with four games left in 2012, Aldon Smith will have a great shot of surpassing Michael Strahan's single season record of 22.5 sacks in an NFL season. 

Smith can play with his hand in the dirt or rush upright. He has the strength and length to be a disruptive run stuffer and, more importantly, the inordinate stamina needed to be effective over the course of a long season.

Charles Haley was a terror as a rush-linebacker for the 49ers, but his greatest strength was his versatility, as he showed from 1992-1996 when he suited up for the Dallas Cowboys, much to the dismay of Niner fans. 

Haley played mostly defensive end for the Cowboys, but even with the Niners, he proved his versatility playing the much difficult "elephant role." 

Much like what defensive coordinator Vic Fangio currently runs with Aldon Smith and this 49ers defense, back in Haley's days with San Francisco, NFL teams wanted to create different variations of the 3-4/4-3 fronts. 

Coaches wanted to find mismatches and took to moving around the weak-side defensive end and allowing him to rush from a two-point stance. Such tweaking gave birth to the versatile "elephant role." 

Charles Haley was one of the role's standard-bearers; however, Aldon Smith will eventually perfect this role. 

As Smith becomes more comfortable in coverage—and he certainly has made strides—expect a different breed to emerge from the OLB position.  

Teams will begin to look for the next Aldon Smith, and based on his recent production and performances, I'm not sure another player of this caliber can be found.