Blog Entry

So, about Alex Smith starting for the 49ers...

Posted on: June 15, 2011 5:34 pm
Edited on: June 15, 2011 7:19 pm
Posted by Ryan Wilson

Maybe 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree misunderstood the question last week when he was asked if "throwing with the quarterback was beneficial toward improving chemistry." His response -- "Who's the quarterback?" -- was the latest slight in a career full of them for former first-overall pick Alex Smith.

Smith's six years in the NFL can kindly be described as underwhelming, a mix of bad luck and bad teams (and don't forget small hands). But new coach Jim Harbaugh stated in late April, shortly after the team drafted Colin Kaepernick, that Smith (who will be a free agent once the lockout ends), pretty much has the starting job sewn up.

"Well, Alex is going to definitely have the head start," Harbaugh said at the time. "He has played in the National Football League. He's won games in the National Football League. So if I'm a betting man, I'm betting on Alex Smith."

Technically, yes, Smith has "won games in the National Football League." So have Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell, two other QBs drafted at the top of the first round who will only get into Canton by purchasing a ticket. So realistically, what can Harbaugh expect from a guy who has played in 54 games in six seasons, and completed just 57 percent of his passes? NFC West blogger Mike Sando breaks out his TI-35 in search of the answer. Specifically, going back to 1970, Sando looked at seasons two through six for every quarterback who had thrown between 40 and 55 touchdown passes, had no more than 45 interceptions, and had started at least 40 games during this period. (Sando excluded rookie seasons because Smith was so dreadful his first year in the league that it threw the analysis out of whack.)

The quarterbacks most similar to Smith through six seasons, according to Sando (scroll to the bottom for the statistical comparisons): Jim McMahon, Greg Landry and -- wait for it -- Jim Harbaugh.

No wonder Harbaugh wants to give Smith the job; Jim literally seems himself in Alex. (Another contributing factor: Kaepernick hasn't taken part in one organized practice with the 49ers.) 

Actually, Harbaugh doesn't have much choice. And while fans aren't typically a forgiving bunch, particularly after watching a player make the same mistakes for the better part of six seasons, Smith still has a chance to be a decent NFL starter. We mentioned Leaf and Russell above, but that was in response to "hey, this guy's won NFL games!", not a strict comparison of skills. Smith has shown glimpses of abilities, albeit brief. Either injuries or distractions have intervened, sidetracking any progress.

Whatever, unless Smith plays like Derek Anderson did with the Browns in 2007 (it's hard to believe now, but Anderson was a Pro Bowler that year), or Tommy Maddox did with the Steelers in 2002, he's probably nothing more than a one-season bridge to Kaepernick. There are worse fates than trying to salvage an NFL career. Smith, for instance, could be caught up in the sordid world of purple drank.

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Since: Apr 28, 2009
Posted on: June 15, 2011 6:33 pm

So, about Alex Smith starting for the 49ers...

I don't participate in hate-based initiatives.

Since: May 17, 2008
Posted on: June 15, 2011 6:14 pm

So, about Alex Smith starting for the 49ers...

Why do people still doubt Alex Smith. I don't and I am not even an Alex Smith supporter.

Um, why wouldn't you doubt him?  What has Alex Smith done that you erase all doubt about his ability to be a starting QB in the NFL?  51TD vs 53INT?  The career QB rating of under 80?  Look, I am not saying he can't or won't be a good QB in the NFL just that there is more reason to doubt it, than to not doubt it.

Since: Aug 7, 2008
Posted on: June 15, 2011 6:00 pm

So, about Alex Smith starting for the 49ers...

Ryan Leaf was drafted second in the 1998 draft. As for Alex Smith....Wilson do I have to school you too? Alex Smith will lead the 49ers to the playoffs next season. Why do people still doubt Alex Smith. I don't and I am not even an Alex Smith supporter.

Since: Jan 3, 2010
Posted on: June 15, 2011 5:53 pm

So, about Alex Smith starting for the 49ers...

Ummm, Ryan Leaf was NOT a first overall pick.

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