It was no surprise when the 49ers took a Missouri product with the No. 7 pick. But it wasn't quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Instead, they tapped junior defender Aldon Smith, who played defensive end for the Tigers but who will be a outside linebacker for the 49ers. Vic Fangio is looking for a versatile, aggressive defense and needs better pass rushers. The 49ers obviously believe that Smith, who had 11 1/2 sacks in 2009 and 5 1/2 last season (he was injured for part of it), has the ability to be a disruptive force.
Smith was one of the 27 or so players who visited the 49ers in the weeks leading up to the draft. He said he met with Jim Harbaugh, linebackers coach Jim Leavitt and others. It was Harbaugh who called him with the news this afternoon.
Smith broke his right fibula in the third game of the 2010 season against San Diego State. However, he returned in Week 6 and toughed it out the rest of the season."I think it let people know that I have heart, that I play the game," Smith said on a conference call. "That I'm not a wimp. That I'm a tough guy."
"That struck a chord with me," Harbaugh said of Smith's toughness. "I know how bones take four to six weeks to heal. There's a toughness aspect there, both mentally and physically."
Harbaugh called Smith "an All-American young man" who had a "Dwayne Wade-like" wingspan. "He's very rarely on the ground. ... Tremendous balance, tremendous hustle that he has. And he's not afraid to go into a pile head first."
By bypassing Gabbert, the 49ers still will be eager to re-sign quarterback Alex Smith. Alex Smith, in turn, likely was watching carefully to see if the 49ers used their No. 7 pick on a quarterback. Gabbert was taken by the Redskins at pick No. 10. Harbaugh said he and the 49ers took a long look at Gabbert as well as every other prospect. Asked if the team could trade back into the first round, he said, "It's a possibility."
Aldon Smith is expected to travel to Santa Clara Friday to meet with coaches. Harbaugh and his staff also will get a chance to sit down with veteran players for the first time since the lockout began in March. One of the veterans who will visit: quarterback Alex Smith, who is an unrestricted free agent. "I did talk to Alex today, and he's coming by tomorrow," Harbaugh said.
-- Matt Barrows