How Much Better Does Malcolm Smith Make the 49ers Defense?
Malcolm Smith knows exactly how to excel in the NFL. A seventh-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, he was the one who received Richard Sherman’s pass tip in the end zone during the Seahawks’ win over the 49ers in the 2013 NFC Championship Game; that one still stings. He was then voted MVP during the Seahawks win over the Broncos in the Super Bowl, but due to the incredible depth Seattle had, Smith was buried and didn’t receive many starts with the Seahawks.
Following his four-year career with Seattle, Smith moved to the Bay, but not to the 49ers just yet. He had a couple of very productive years with the Oakland Raiders.Over the 2015 and 2016 seasons combined, Smith was third in the NFL with 186 solo tackles and was 14th in total tackles with 226. He also started 30 games with the Raiders, and was involved in 94.125% of their defensive snaps during the two-year period.
Following that two-year stint, Smith moved across the Bay and signed a five-year, $26,500,000 contract with the San Francisco 49ers in 2017, including a $7,000,000 signing bonus, with $11,500,000 guaranteed.
Smith looked like he would bring a much-needed veteran presence to a young inexperienced defense, but a pectoral injury in training camp brought his 2017 season to a premature close.
So, now we look towards 2018 and what type of impact will a healthy Smith potentially bring to what is still a young defense?
Let’s look at the core group of the 49ers linebacker corps.
Entering his fourth year in the NFL, currently, Eli Harold holds a 47.7 grade with Pro Football Focus. Yep, that’s not that great; from their scoring format he’s the 56thbest-ranked linebacker in the NFL, and according to pro-football-reference he was in on only 40.18% of snaps and his snap count got worse towards the end of the season.
Reuben Foster, the first round pick out of Alabama in the 2017 NFL Draft was definitely a steal for the 49ers. Pro Football Focus has given Foster a 90.7 grade, the fourth-best linebacker in the NFLaccording to their scoring. Last season, he played in 49.16% of the defensive snaps, but in the last eight games of the season, he was on the field for more than 93% of the time, including four games where he played every defensive down.
But as amazing as Foster is, we have seen the immaturity, specifically with the current off-season, and he will have to sit out for his two-game suspension before taking the field in 2018.
Fred Warner (R)
Fred Warner, the rookie. It’s hard to say how well Warner will translate over into the NFL. The third-round pick was evaluated in a great article from 49ershub writer Jay Moore, but without actually seeing him play a snap in the NFL yet, we’re unsure how well he’ll actually perform.
Smith’s Potential Impact
Since the early retirement of Patrick Willis and the 49ers cutting NaVorro Bowman during the middle of last season, Malcolm Smith will bring a veteran’s presence to a linebacker corps that is lacking just that, veteran leadership. Sure, Foster could eventually take over that role, but between his injuries last season and legal troubles this off-season, he still has a lot to learn, and whom better to teach him now than Malcolm Smith.
Having proven that he can stay on the field for most of the game, I expect to see him play a lot this season. Defensive Coordinator Robert Salehhas mirrored his defensive scheme like the one that was ran in Seattle when he was the Defensive Quality Control Coach and where Smith began his career in the NFL. Hopefully through his leadership and experience we can see the 49ers’ linebackers take a huge leap forward this season, and just maybe we can see them transform into something great, and transform into something opposing offenses fear.
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