Sakamoto: Why 49ers Should Target LB Jaylon Smith With First Round Pick


The San Francisco 49ers clearly need a face-lift on the defensive side of the ball. A team that once proud themselves on imposing their will down in the trenches, it’s the linebacker unit that needs help.

The linebacker unit has taken a huge hit with plenty of losses. From the heart and soul of the team’s defense ILB Patrick Willis to the best young linebacker in the game ILB Chris Borland, those two losses created a huge void at inside linebacker and as a result the defense has not been the same since.

However, help should be on the way, as there is one promising inside linebacker who I believe the 49ers should target in next year’s NFL Draft, who would not only complement ILB NaVorro Bowman but ease the blow of losing both Willis and Borland — that player is LB Jaylon Smith.

The 49ers will surely end up with a top 10 pick in next year’s draft and while the team could use some help along the offensive line, I highly doubt they target a right tackle as RT Anthony Davis has already told many of the players about his potential comeback. With that being said, look for the 49ers to turn their focus to the other side of the ball while getting an elite playmaker in the process.

No linebacker in the country has the range, speed, and natural instincts to run sideline-to-sideline like Smith. A true football player in every sense of the word — Smith would instantly become a dominant force in the middle of the 49ers defense. “He’s definitely a top 10 pick,” said NT Ian Williams.

No offense to ILB Michael Wilhoite but he’s a huge liability in pass-protection while bringing a non-existent pass-rush (no sacks in four-year career). That’s why Smith makes sense not only from a need based perspective but from selecting the best overall player. It’s a win-win situation where need meets BPA.

A year and a half ago, I wrote a similar article as to why GM Trent Baalke would target ILB Chris Borland and ILB Shayne Skov during the draft process despite already having Willis and Bowman and as it turns out I was right. So if past behavior is any indication of future behavior look for Baalke to once again pull the trigger on an inside linebacker as that position is an invaluable asset to the team’s 3-4 defense.

With the 49ers giving up 209 rushing yards on 30 carries to rookie RB Thomas Rawls, it will be interesting to see how they plan to attack the off-season as the defense needs desperate help on the backend.

Ryan is the Founder/CEO of, 49ers Beat Writer, Live Game Day Correspondent for Bleacher Report and member of Pro Football Writers of America. Born and raised in San Jose, he also graduated from San Diego State University. His work has been featured on NFL Network, 95.7 The Game, National Football Post, Sports Illustrated, FanSided Network, ESPN Radio, CBS Sports 810, and NBC Bay Area News. For more information, please contact him via email at or call him at (408) 622-0996.