Aldon Smith declared for the NFL Draft without a lot of hype after his sophomore season in 2010.
Just weeks after, the hype has arrived for the defensive end whose 2010 season was marred by a broken leg that slowed him when he returned and forced a dip in his production.
The 6-foot-4, 262-pound athletic speedster projects as an outside linebacker at the NFL level, and debuted at No. 14 on Mel Kiper's Big Board, a list of the top 25 prospects in the NFL draft.
In Kiper's first official mock draft, he has Smith going to the Houston Texans with the 11th pick of the draft, just five spots behind teammate Blaine Gabbert, who Kiper says will be picked up by the Arizona Cardinals.
"Smith's declaration moved him up among draft-eligible pass-rushers," Kiper writes. "Smith is more athlete than refined pass-rusher at this stage, but he has a great wing-span and is a perfect size and speed combination to develop as an outside linebacker. We know Houston has to address the defensive side of the ball and Smith is the kind of high-upside player that will fly up the board as personnel people start seeing the tape. He'll improve a weak pass rush."
Fellow draft analyst Todd McShay has Smith going No. 21 to the Kansas City Chiefs.
"Kansas City needs a pass rusher opposite Tamba Hali and Smith is one of the more underrated players in this draft," McShay writes. "He's a little undersized for a 4-3 end but is a perfect fit at outside linebacker in the Chiefs' 3-4 defense."
Those assessments seem about right for Smith. He's definitely raw, but his athleticism is off the charts, and he's nowhere near his ceiling as a player. He could have experienced further solid development with another year at Missouri, but he'll get a chance to do it in the NFL. With these latest projections, he'll do it with plenty of money in his pockets, barring a lockout.