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December 28, 2011
Aldon Smith: rookie sack record but no Pro Bowl?


With one sack, Aldon Smith will become the NFL's most prolific rookie pass rusher since the league started keeping track of the statistic in 1982. All Smith needs to do is sack the Rams quarterback -- Sam Bradford or Kellen Clemens -- once to move ahead of Jevon Kearse for the rookie record. Kearse had 14 ½ sacks in 1999.

Kearse went to the Pro Bowl that season. Aldon Smith? He will not be going. It seems that half the league was honored as at least a 2nd, 3rd or 4th alternate. Smith didn't even get that distinction. So what happened?

The Pro Bowl voting is divided into thirds with fans, coaches and players getting an equal say. While coaches and players could vote for Smith - as a defensive end - most fans could not because Smith was not on the on-line fan ballot. Only starters were listed on that ballot, and Smith has been brought into games mostly as a pass-rush specialist.

The bigger reason is that Smith is simply not a household name. Kearse received huge buzz as his alter ego, "The Freak," in 1999 and was named defensive rookie of the year. Smith, meanwhile, got little fanfare in the run-up to the draft and was a surprise pick at No. 7 overall. Observers thought the 49ers had reached for the Missouri product simply because they had never heard his name before.

Previous 49ers squads likely hurt Smith's chances, too. The 49ers had been bad for so long that they had few games on national television (that will change next year) where other players and coaches could watch Smith in action. Smith did have his best game of the season on Monday Night Football. But even then the fates may have conspired against him. The two blackouts delayed the game by roughly 40 minutes, and some east coast viewers - the bulk of the voting block - likely went to bed before Smith could truly show off his skills.

Another worthy 49er also got snubbed. NaVorro Bowman ranks fifth in the league with 133 tackles on a defense that is first against the run and first in scoring. Still, he's merely an alternate for this year's Pro Bowl. Bowman's youth and the fact that Pro Bowl defensive scheme is a 4-3 (and only requires one inside linebacker) probably worked against him.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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