When the San Francisco 49ers (5-4) drafted OLB Aaron Lynch in the fifth-round (No. 150) of this year’s NFL Draft, I was not surprised. A player that had second-round talent written all over him, Lynch’s draft stock dipped due to character concerns. However, that didn’t stop Lynch from being selected by the five-time Super Bowl Champions. An assessment I gave back in April as I said, “Lynch’s on-field skill set can’t be denied. A speed pass-rusher with violent hands, Lynch would be a pass-rush specialist early on in his career. But the question remains, will the 49ers draft him? Considered a late fifth to seventh-round draft pick, do not be surprised if Baalke drafts him as he already drafted another USF star in QB B.J. Daniels last season.”
Now, with just seven games left in the season you can’t help but praise 49ers GM Trent Baalke and his scouting department for taking the chance on this high risk/high reward prospect. Through seven games, Lynch has graded out as the fifth best player according to Pro Football Focus with a 9.6 grade. In addition, Lynch’s 6.1 pass-rush rating tops the team. A true pass-rush specialist with the potential to be great, sky’s the limit for the USF product.
In seven games this season, Lynch has recorded 11 tackles, 2.0 sacks, and four pass break-ups. And those numbers should only balloon now that OLB Aldon Smith has returned.
The best pure pass-rusher in the NFL, Smith will be provide an electric boost to the 49ers pass defense. A player that averages just under one sack per game during the regular season evident by racking up 42 sacks in 43 games, Smith should be available on passing downs on Sunday. And that doesn’t bode well for New York Giants (3-6) QB Eli Manning and the rest of the NFL. But how much will Smith play? That remains to be seen as DC Vic Fangio had the following to say:
#49ers Fangio on how much OLB Aldon Smith will play this week: “I haven’t even told the players because in my own mind I’m not sure yet.”
— Ryan Sakamoto (@SakamotoRyan) November 13, 2014
Fangio went on to say that Smith was “rusty” as should be expected but was this a ploy to throw-off the New York Giants game-plan? That remains to be seen but one thing is for sure, Smith will play on Sunday whether on passing downs or in the game’s most crucial moments. I asked 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh today how Aldon looked in practice and he told me, “Good. He’s looked good all week. Been great. He’s had a bounce in his step and looks like he’s enjoying it. Having fun out there and that’s been great to see.”
Last year, Smith only played 12 of the 67 snaps in his much anticipated return against the Carolina Panthers. A game in which the 49ers lost a defensive struggle 10-9, Smith was clearly not a happy camper as he felt he could have contributed more than what the coaches allowed. Will the 49ers take on a similar approach this time around? I highly doubt it as the pass-rush has been a glaring weakness all season long.
With the 49ers poised to improve to a perfect 2-0 in their mini two-game road trip, they will need Smith in action as he should make life difficult for QB Eli Manning behind the line of scrimmage. And if Smith does his part look for Lynch to greatly benefit as he continues to thrive as a top 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL.