This player is quite a bit different than the other players chosen during this series, mainly because he started his career off as one of the most dominant rookies in years. But he’s turned into the classic tale of a player being self destructive and not being able to get out of their own way. 49ers fans will know who I’m talking about, it’s Aldon Smith.
When Smith was coming out of college he was being compared to DeMarcus Ware. That’s insane praise seeing as he’s a future Hall of Famer and one of the best pass rushers in the last few decades. Smith was viewed as having the versatility to play standing up or with his hand in the dirt. He had great size and amazing athleticism. The 9ers decided to select him 7th overall in 2011.
While he didn’t start a single game during his rookie season, he made a huge impact as a pass rusher. He registered 13 sacks, which was half a sack away from breaking Jevon Kearse’s rookie record. He also won defensive rookie of the month, and came in 2nd behind Von Miller for the DROY award. During his second year he became a full time starter and his success continued, he had a 5.5 sack game and became the fastest player to record 30 sacks after accomplishing that in 27 games. The 9ers went to the Super Bowl that season and he was named their team MVP.
His 3rd year was when everything began going downhill, he started off strong registering 4.5 sacks in 3 games but was then involved in a car accident. He would be arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence and marijuana possession, Smith checked into a rehab facility and would miss 5 games because of it. Heading into his 4th season he was suspended for 9 weeks due to violating the league’s substance abuse and personal conduct policies. After being reinstated he was again arrested for a DUI, which prompted the 9ers to release him. The Raiders would sign him, only for the league to suspend him for the entire season stemming from his DUI and hit and run incident. He’s yet to be reinstated and missed both the 2016 and 2017 seasons in their entirety.
It’s strange to label a player who experienced so much early success as a bust, but when you go from having HOF potential to being out of the league for two years that’s definitely considered a let down. This is an extremely sad instance where a player has destroyed his career, and robbed fans of watching a truly amazing thing unfold. Smith is said to currently be sober and awaiting his reinstatement, he also just got engaged. It seems that his life is heading in the right direction.
When the 9ers drafted him, there was a ton of talent still on the board that have avoided suspensions and haven’t brought their franchises any public embarrassment. The following players were selected after him, Tyron Smith, J.J. Watt, Robert Quinn, Mike Pouncey, Ryan Kerrigan, Cameron Jordan, and Mark Ingram. Although Watt has battled injuries, he’s turned in a few all time great seasons to go along with his amazing off field efforts in his community. Kerrigan and Quinn have both blossomed into good players, while Tyron Smith can stake has claim as the league’s best tackle when healthy.
Fortunately for 9er nation things seem to be finally turning around. They’ve got their new HC in Shanahan, and their franchise QB in Jimmy G, they’ll be an attractive destination during free agency while also adding more talent during the draft. But there’s no doubt that any of those players listed would be great additions to a team that has gained steam as a playoff dark horse for the 2018 season.