Aldon Smith

49ers NFL Draft preview: Baalke likes pass rushers with light bodies, heavy hands

Like cornerback, outside linebacker/defensive end is not an immediate need for the team. But given a 2012 schedule that includes Green Bay, Detroit, New York (Giants, New Orleans, and New England, Baalke and company are probably aware of the need for strong pass defense and an improved pass rush, which would be significantly hampered were anything to happen to Aldon Smith. Plus, as the cliché goes, you can never have too many pass rushers.

Surprisingly, in Baalke’s tenure, the 49ers have only draft four outside linebackers, two of which were taken in 2006.

Year Rd Pk Ht Wt 40 Y/D 10 Y/D Bench Shuttle Broad Jump
M. Lawson 2006 1 22 6-5 241 4.43 1.55 23 4.21 10’04”
P. Haralson 2006 5 7 6-1 253 4.80 1.72 24 4.32 09’07”
J. Moore 2007 4 5 6-5 276 4.92 1.59 26 4.35 09’10”
A. Smith 2011 1 7 6-4 263 4.74 1.66 20 4.50 09’10″

The sample size notwithstanding, there does appear to be a physical type that the 49ers prefer: Long and lean. Though Parys Haralson is anything but, the averages confirm Baalke’s thing for the Aldon Smith’s of the world.

Attribute Range Average
Height 6-1 – 6-5 6-3
Weight 241 – 276 250
40 Y/D 4.43 – 4.92 4.72
10 Y/D 1.55 – 1.72 1.63
Bench 20 – 26 23
Shuttle 4.21– 4.50 4.34
Broad Jump 09’07” – 10’04” 09’08”

Another physical characteristic that the 49ers covet is hand strength. When prompted by KNBR’s Larry Krueger, defensive line coach Jim Tomsula noted interest in whether or a player is “heavy handed.”

“Do they play heavy handed? Do they strike with those hands what happens when they use those hands?” Tomsula asked. “At the end of the day, all the strength is coming through the hands.”

Hand strength is not necessarily something that is measurable. Still, hand size could indicate strength to a certain degree. Aldon Smith’s 9.6” hands would seem to validate this.

Given this data, as well as Baalke’s thing of long and lean, here is a list of the likeliest pass rushers to be drafted.

Whitney Mercilus, Illinois

Proj HT WT 40 Y/D 10 Y/D Shuttle Broad Jump Hand Tkl TFL Sk
1 6-4 261 4.68 1.53 4.53 09’10” 9.2 81 29 18

Mercilus is almost an Aldon Smith clone. Sure, he’s got smaller arms, but overall, he fits a physical mold that the 49ers seem to covet. Like Smith, Mercilus, according to National Football Post, shows “savvy using his length and hands to keep himself clean on contact” and is “quick/compact with his club/swat on the outside in order to slip the block.” ESPN Insider notes that he has “shown vast improvement in hand-to-hand combat but still has room for improvement.” Mike Tanier of Yahoo believes that Mercilus “can step into a situational pass rush role as a rookie and will probably be a handful.”

Shea McClellin, Boise State

Proj HT WT 40 Y/D 10 Y/D Shuttle Broad Jump Hand Tkl TFL Sck
1 6-3 260 4.63 1.57 4.33 09’10” 10.1 64 33 20.5

McClellin might be the Justin Smith of outside linebackers. Like Justin Smith, McClellin is something of a cowboy, who was raised on a farm and who plays with a high motor. According to, McClellin is a “high effort and energy rusher who plays with obvious passion and intensity — relentless and tenacious motor.” ESPN Insider notes that McClellin can “convert speed-to-power and flashes ability to rock tackles back on their heels.” McClellin also shows “good suddenness with rush and has a wide variety of pass rushing moves including a quick spin and swim move to the inside as a change up to keep tackles on their toes.”

Bruce Irvin, West Virginia

Proj HT WT 40 Y/D 10 Y/D Shuttle Broad Jump Hand Tkl TFL Sck
1-2 6-3 245 4.50 1.55 4.03 10’03” 9.6 61 28.5 22.5

Irvin is a physical freak. He has drawn comparisons to former 49ers first round draft choice Manny Lawson. But, I think he’s more Aldon than Manny. According to, Irvin “can run like a scalded dog and is the most explosive pass rusher of any in the draft.” ESPN Insider notes Irvin possesses “active and violent hands and can shock blockers when dialing speed-to-power moves.”

Vinny Curry, Marshall

Proj HT WT 40 Y/D 10 Y/D Shuttle Broad Jump Hand Tkl TFL Sck
2 6-3 266 4.98 1.58 4.40 09’02” 9.2 N/A 49 26

Curry doesn’t really fit the mold. His is not as long as the others. Still, like McClellin, Curry is a relentless player. According to Chad Reuter of, Curry plays “with intensity and a nice anchor even when giving up 40-50 pounds against most blockers.” Jonathan Bales of the New York Times ranks Curry ahead of Mercilus and Courtney Upshaw, noting that Curry uses “superior handwork.” ESPN Insider suggests that Curry can use “torso flexibility” and a “solid closing burst” to harass the QB.

Sammy Brown, Houston

Proj HT WT 40 Y/D 10 Y/D Shuttle 3-Cone Drill Hand Tkl TFL Sck
5-6 6-2 242 4.63 1.57 4.47 10’03” N/A 169 50 21

Brown is smaller than the prototype, but, as Wes Bunting suggests, Brown “looks bigger because of his longer set of arms.” Bunting continues, noting that Brown has “a feel for getting after the passer, exhibits a good burst and closing speed around the edge and is an intriguing 34-type prospect.” The knock on Brown is that he doesn’t always play with a high motor. Still, his athleticism and pass rush ability make him an intriguing option for Baalke.

Frank Alexander, Oklahoma

Proj HT WT 40 Y/D 10 Y/D Shuttle 3-Cone Drill Hand Tkl TFL Sck
7-FA 6-4 270 4.80 1.69 4.59 09’09” 9.75 143 44 20.5

Alexander certainly fits the prescribed mold, though his workout times are a tad slower than the averages. Alexander was a highly productive pass rusher in the Big 12, earning the conference’s Co-Defensive Player of the Year award. Dane Brugler of describes Alexander as a “tenacious and tough” player who “flashes strength at the point of attach with active, violent hand usage.” also makes note Alexander’s “active” hands, while also describing his arms as “vines,” which he uses to “fend off blockers.” notes that Alexander has a “great burst off the snap” and “gets momentum going up the field and easily changes direction.”

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