Smith will most likely back up Matt Willhelm at outside linebacker, but he will begin the season in the starting lineup as Stephen Cooper serves a four-game suspension. Smith has logged a total of nine 100-tackle seasons in a stellar 12-year career. Smith will nicely fill out a solid group of linebackers in San Diego.
Smith's play fell off dramatically in 2006, due in no small part to a muscle strain in his left eye that affected his peripheral vision and caused much discomfort, which required surgery in February. Smith was able to participate when the 49ers hit the practice field in May and his faster than expected recovery may have been due to the team's selection of Patrick Willis in the first round in this year's draft. If Smith is back to his old form, look for him line up as the starting left inside linebacker and rack up tackles, if he struggles like he did in 2006, Brandon Moore or Willis could start at the position.
There’s nothing spectacular about Smith. Last season was his first reaching 90 solo tackles. He’ll usually deliver at least one sack; last year was the first in nine seasons without one. So what’s he here for? For the past five years running, Smith has either been in the linebacker year-end top 25, just off of it or in the clubhouse with a per-game average that would put him there (he missed two games in 2001 and in 2004 but those are the only games he’s missed in nine years). Owners are right to shoot for a lottery ticket with picks this low, but anyone looking to win the race with slow and steady has found his man.
Smith has never reached 90 solo tackles in a season, but he’s also never failed to record at least a half a sack and a fumble recovery or two, and that’s over a nine-year career. He missed two games in October 2004 to ligament damage in his ankle after being kicked in a game but came back to finish the year strong and otherwise has a good health track record. Last year he was on pace for that 90-tackle breakthrough. He rarely drops in a weak game and could be poised to pick up where he left off.
Smith had 138 tackles, 88 solo, as well as four sacks and one forced fumble. He will once again line up as the starting left inside linebacker and is worth a play in leagues that play individual defensive players.
Starting MLB and a tackle machine. Smith had 113 tackles in 2002 (84 solo) and should be close to that again this year. Look elsewhere for sacks and interceptions.