Sakamoto: 49ers’ GM Trent Baalke Reflects on Drafting OLB Aldon Smith

Michael Macor/The Chronicle

Michael Macor/The Chronicle

Q:) What do you like most about Aldon Smith?

Baalke: We like a lot of things about him. He’s young. We understand that it’s going to be a learning process. He’s not played on his feet a lot. He has played some.

So to make the conversion from defensive end to outside linebacker is going to take some time. It does for all these guys. As we’ve all come to learn, most of these 3-4 outside linebackers come from the defensive end position at the collegiate level.

Q:) Was there one moment when you realized you wanted him?

Baalke: There’s a lot of qualities to like in him. Obviously once again he’s young. There’s the growing pains that go along with that. Those are all things we took into consideration.

But he comes from a strong foundation. He comes from a strong program. Just the uniqueness in his physical talents and the ability for us to mold him into the type of player that we see him becoming is really what it came down to.

Q:) Have you thought about who Aldon Smith might be paired with at OLB?

Baalke: It was a chance to add a pressure player with prototype size to a roster that was in need of some help in getting to the passer.

Q:) He’s going to be a strong-side LB? What does that say about Manny Lawson?

Baalke: None of that is determined yet. This is a young guy. He’s 20 years old. We’re not expecting him to come in here and be a superstar from Day 1. There’s a learning curve and all of these guys go through it.

It’s hard to find a guy to come in to play the 3-4 outside linebacker position from the collegiate level that’s game-ready, simply because there aren’t a lot of 3-4 defenses played at the collegiate level.

Q:) This team hasn’t won a lot recently. How hard is it to draft a guy at 7 who might not be ready to go right away and bypass some guys who might be more game-ready?

Baalke: I don’t look at the short-term. I think I’ve mentioned that. I’m looking at the long-term vision of the San Francisco 49ers, where we are today and where we want to be.

If you look in the short-term and you’re worried about job security and all that, you make bad decisions.

We feel very good about the pick, very good about him developing sooner than later. We’re not looking at this as a project. This is a guy that has a lot of talent that we’re looking to get onto the field and into the rotation as soon as we can.

I just understand when we make the decision like this, as we all did in the room, that there is a learning curve and we’re willing to go through it with him because of the talent that he has.

[EDIT]

Q:) You drafted pass-rushers in the first round in a bunch of years—Kentwan Balmer, Manny Lawson recently. What separates Smith from those previous picks?

Baalke: Kentwan was a defensive tackle, not a defensive end. And Manny was more of a rush outside linebacker that was a little bit different in how we envision using Aldon.

The difference? Once again, this guy is prototype size, 6-4 (plus), 263 pounds, runs a sub-4.8, with 35-plus arm length. He’s got the physical attributes you’re looking for.

He can play with power. He can turn speed to power. He’s just…raw. And he’s certainly going to be raw when it comes to playing on his feet and learning the position.

But feel good once again about the potential in that area.

Q:) Do you take any kind of pride in making a pick that nobody expected?

Baalke: I think we take pride in the fact that there was no discussion outside of our own building. And that says a lot about the quality of the people inside our building. That this stuff doesn’t get out. And that’s important for us to be able on draft day make the best decisions for the 49ers.

[EDIT]

Q:) How seriously did you consider a quarterback at that spot?

Baalke: We considered it. We’ve had discussions for the better part of three months getting prepared for this draft on exactly how we were going to approach pick 7 and what we were willing to take at that pick and who we were willing to take at that pick.

Did we have any quarterbacks valued at that level? Obviously the answer is no… of those that were available at that pick.

Q:) How high a priority is it now to get a QB?

Baalke: I realize and I understand and we understand as an organization that we need to get a quarterback. But when that takes place, how it takes place, that’s all been discussed internally and it’s going to stay internal.

Q:) Are you taking into account who can make an impact in 2011 when you evaluate the QBs?

Baalke: We have looked at every option available to us. When you look at free agency, look at the trade opportunities or possibilities, you look at players that are still on the board… there’s… there are players out there, situations out there, that are going to allow us to address the position.

But we’ve got to let it play itself out.

[EDIT]

Q:) How did Aldon Smith come out ahead of Robert Quinn?

Baalke: I think the pick speaks for that. I’m not going to get into the comparison of the two athletes. The pick once again speaks for how they were rated on our board. We liked both players. We just had Aldon rated higher.

Q:) Is there a player in the NFL that you could compare him to?

Baalke: It’s hard to get into comparisons, it really is. One of the unique things about studying him, and Tom Gamble, who’s been in the league 20-plus years and a lot of other guys that were sitting in those meetings with us, that was one thing that was difficult.

Because usually you find a guy that you say, ’he reminds me of,’ and I don’t know that we ever got there. There were bits and pieces of him that reminded us of different players, but as a whole it was very hard to find one guy we said, ‘that’s it, that’s who he reminds us of.’

Q:) Jevon Kearse, maybe?

Baalke: The body itself, the arm length, rare arm length, 35-plus inches, that’s rare, at 263 pounds. For an outside linebacker… that’s a prototype backer…

[EDIT]

Q:) Can you say you’re absolutely not trading Aldon Smith in the next few days?

Baalke: I wouldn’t absolutely sure to anything. We’re always looking to improve this football team.

But are we looking to trade Aldon Smith? Absolutely not. We wouldn’t have picked him if we were thinking of trading him.

Q:) So there’s nothing in the works where you might trade him?

Baalke: No.

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