Malcolm Smith has had some good seasons – and some great moments – in his six-year NFL career.
Two years ago, he started all 16 games for the Oakland Raiders and was a tackling machine, in on 123 stops with four sacks, an interception and three forced fumbles. For the Seahawks in their Super Bowl win over the Broncos in February of 2014, Smith was the MVP for his 69-yard interception return for a touchdown, a recovered fumble and nine tackles.
But when the 49ers this offseason signed Smith as a free agent, many NFL analysts weren’t impressed. Among them was Bleacher Report’s Brad Gagnon, who said the Niners’ five-year, $26.5 million deal with Smith was way too rich and “baffling.”
Gagnon noted the analytic website Pro Football Focus graded Smith as one of the 10 worst players at his position in the NFL in 2016.
“Smith does nothing but plug holes, but even in run defense, he’s a replacement-level player at best,” Gagnon wrote. “He can’t rush the passer, he can’t drop into coverage. He’s just … meh.”
Yet the 49ers think highly of Smith, and new defensive coordinator Robert Saleh coached Smith when both were with the Seahawks. Smith is familiar with Saleh’s system, and the transition across the Bay for him figures to be relatively easy. For now, Smith figures to contend for a starting outside linebacker spot with San Francisco. Plus, he can add some leadership to the front seven.
General manager John Lynch, a former standout safety, said recently he believes Smith will fit in nicely.
“A lot of people, for whatever reason, thought we overpaid for him,” Lynch said in an interview on KNBR. “But we needed a linebacker who has been in this system before. He’s exceeded my expectations in terms of his athleticism and how he moves out there.”
Saleh has called Smith “a really, really good football player,” and can see him making an impact in 2017.
Said Saleh, to SB Nation: “To bring him back to this scheme to where he can run and hit and do the things that he’s great at is going to be very beneficial for him and for the organization.”