Posted August 01, 2013

Is Alex Smith the ‘best in the league’? Hardly, but he still may thrive in Kansas City

AFC West, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs acquired Alex Smith from the Niners in a trade this offseason.

The Chiefs acquired Alex Smith from the Niners in a trade this offseason. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

Look, Alex Smith, with more than a little assist from Jim Harbaugh, deserves all the credit in the world for reviving his career. The former No. 1 overall pick was on the verge of relegation to career backup/total bust status before the 2011 season, only to lead San Francisco to a 13-3 record and a playoff win plus a 6-2-1 start to 2012.

But this, as told by new Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson to The Kansas City Star, is absurd:

“Ultimately, every team has to have a quarterback,” Pederson said. “I think we have the best in the league.”

The best? Better than Peyton Manning … Tom Brady … Drew Brees … Joe Flacco … Matt Ryan … Eli Manning … Colin Kaepernick … ?

“There are a lot of great ones,” Pederson said, “but over time, Alex has proven he can get it done. He’s a sharp guy, he brings a wealth of knowledge, he’s experienced, he’s a proven winner the last couple of years, and he needs a team to embrace him.”

OK, OK, Pederson should be fully supportive of his new quarterback. And Smith’s play over the past two seasons definitely earned him another starting shot in this league. He did, after all, complete an incredible 70.2 percent of his passes last season — a number better than any QB with more than 13 attempts, more than a percentage point ahead of Matt Ryan and Peyton Manning, the full-season leaders at 68.6 percent.

In that Harbaugh-led system, one which masked Smith’s shortcomings and took full advantage of his strengths, Smith rather remarkably turned the corner with the 49ers. Had he not suffered a concussion midway through last season, the Legend of Colin Kaepernick may never have been born.

Smith could be a terrific fit in Andy Reid’s Chiefs offense, too. Reid has a history of getting the best out of his QBs, and he’s reportedly tinkering with elements like the pistol formation and some option plays.

Anything beyond expecting Smith to play well, though, is just lip service.

No offensive coordinator is going to step in front of the press and say, “Yeah, our guy’s pretty good … but I wish we had Peyton Manning.” So, this is less about taking Pederson to task for implying that he’d pick Smith over Brady or Brees if given the choice, than it is about pinning down where Smith actually falls in the QB pecking order. And, by doing so, determining exactly what the Chiefs can expect from him in 2013.

What we think we know about Smith at this point in his career is that he is more than capable of racking up wins, maybe even leading the charge at times as he did in San Francisco’s 36-32 playoff win over the Saints two seasons ago. (Smith threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns in that game.)

He’s also a QB who usually is at his best when not asked to do too much. Last season, for example, Smith attempted 30 or more passes in just three of his nine starts — and the 49ers were 1-2 in those games. His best 2012 outings came when he attempted 26, 24 and 19 passes. In those turns, against Green Bay, Buffalo and Arizona, respectively, he completed a combined 81.2 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and no interceptions.

During the 13-3 regular season in 2012, Smith was 20th among full-time starters in passes attempted.

Reid’s no doubt aware of all this. Same goes for Pederson. The 49ers did not necessarily thrive in 2011 or early in 2012 because of Smith; Smith thrived because of the 49ers. That’s not to say that his improvement as a passer and decision-maker was a total mirage. Or that Smith was a total system quarterback, destined to bomb now that he’s outside the comfy confines of Harbaugh’s tutelage.

Rather, it’s meant to point out that Smith had two terrific seasons after six disastrous ones. That the uptick happened to occur as San Francisco greatly improved its team and adjusted its offensive playbook to better utilize Smith is no coincidence.

Smith should carry over his recent improvement from San Francisco to Kansas City, because he’s landed in another promising situation — flush with a head coach capable of getting the most from him.

Any talk of Smith as one of the NFL’s great quarterbacks, however, will have to wait until he’s proven himself for far longer than a season and a half.

19 comments
209cat
209cat

Being a 49ers fan my whole life i have had a front row seat for all of Alex Smiths career so far,  Best in the NFL  not a chance.  a good starter who doesn't have the greatest arm is what i would clasify him as.  his best year before Harbaugh was with Norv Turner,  Harbaugh played to his strengths as did Turner,  Alex is not going to be tossing 40 yard bombs, but he is highly effective in the short passing game and i hope Andy Reid realizes this and uses him in the right way.  Alex is a top 15 QB and i wish him the best with the Chiefs..... 

evil.aaronm
evil.aaronm

So, Smith - of which I'm no particular fan - was only good under Harbaugh, but Kap is a whole 'nother beast, who'd be good under any circumstances, right?  Or, did Kap flourish for the same reasons Smith did: Harbaugh focused on his strengths, and coached around his weaknesses?  Can't have it both ways, folks.

RickKerner
RickKerner

I certainly wouldn't call him the best. Top 3 maybe but even that is tough!

brighat
brighat

If there's a Hall Of Fame for resiliency, Alex Smith would be a first-ballot inductee. 6 OC, two seasons lost to injuries, benched for a bunch of stiffs, belittled by the press, had coaches stab him in the back and then finally showing promise only to jettisoned by Colin Kaepernick. You know he will continue to fight the battle. I'm pulling for the guy in Kansas City. He, at least, stays the course. You want him on your team because he tries hard and wants to prove his critics wrong.


MidwestGolfFan
MidwestGolfFan

Why all this media nastiness about Smith?  Not everyone can be Tom Brady. 

"Bust?"  Unfulfilled promise, maybe.  But implying he almost wound lumped with lazy screw-ups?  Smith kept his mouth shut and did his best, the consummate pro, while EVERYTHING changed around him yearly.  "Bust" lumps him with clowns like Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell.

I hope he does really well in KC.  As for Colin Kaepernick, he was exciting and effective in his first year...but then, so was Cam Newton.  We'll see how Colin K. fares in his second year. 

BWS102
BWS102

the chiefs are a joke of a football team 


from Me 

mugzbo
mugzbo

People also tend to forget the fact that Alex Smith had six OC's in his first six seasons. They never gave him a chance and he's certainly a smart kid. He never gave up during the seven years of hell all Niners fans endured, he proved himself to a coaching staff that believed in him and he got another shot to start. Good for him, those opportunities only arise when one persists.

I think Burke is just saying Alex Smith shouldn't be called great yet and I don't think anyone outside of KC is actually saying that. Don't read too much into what Pederson is saying, I'm sure he doesn't even believe that statement. He's just being as descriptive and eloquent as he knows how to be.

fremontBill
fremontBill

It's odd that everyone talks like Jim Harbaugh waved some magic wand and turned Alex Smith from a terrible quarterback into a good one.  All Harbaugh did was understand how to use his strengths -- strengths that turned out to be pretty strong based on his record under Harbaugh.  But there's nothing different about that than how all good coaches handle their quarterbacks and the rest of their players.  Yes, I'm saying that Brady and Brees and Flacco and Ryan and etc. all have their weaknesses, which their coaches coach around.  Even Rodgers may have some weakness, but, I admit, they're pretty hard to find.  Anyway, my point is that Alex Smith should be judged based on what he does with coaches that know how to use him, just as with all the "elite" QBs.

BY
BY

@MidwestGolfFan I totally agree with you! Smith did everything that was asked of him (imagine learning 6 offenses in 6 years). I am rooting for him to excel and have a long and productive career in KC. He is a true pro.

kdbarbershop
kdbarbershop

@MidwestGolfFan Why you ask? Because Smith sucked for 6 years before Harbaugh got there. Only a miracle kept him in football. No QB gets six years of sucking and still has a career. Smith is failing to recognize that. He was lucky to be around when Harbaugh was hired. Second, when he couldn't get back into the line-up after being hurt, he acting like a punk. "All I did was get hurt." Happens all the time in the NFL. I didn't hear Drew Bledsoe whining when Brady came in and took his job, after an injury. Smith made it OK for other players to choose sides. Harbaugh managed to avoid a split lockerroom which could have sunk the team. Third, Smith called the 49ers trip to the Super Bowl bittersweet. A reference to the fact he would not be starting. He couldn't just be happy for the team, it had to be about him not playing. Smith also doesn't give Harbaugh any props from rescuing his career. In his first news conference in KC, Smith never mentioned Harbaugh.The reason the 49ers were playing in their second consecutive super bowl this year had nothing to do with the muffed punts against the Giants in the NFC championship. It had everything to do with Smith not being able to get the team into the end zone. That's why David Akers broke all kinds of team scoring records that year, and that's why Harbaugh went out and got someone, in Kaepernick, who could get the ball in the endzone. If Cam Newton had complained like this everyone would be saying Nolan Nawrocki was right. Why does Smith get to whine like a biznitch and still come off like a victim? The only think Smith as going for him this year is that the AFC west sucks. Denver will win easily, the Raiders don't have a coach, and SD has a new coach. This yet another SF QB to KC fail.(Montana being the exception)

And how will Kaep. fare in his second year? Its not going to be nearly as easy for him as it was for Smith. One, the NFC west is the best its EVER been, and two, everyone is going to want to have their best game against the defending NFC champs. But unlike Smith Kaepernick is poised, and has extreme confidence in multi-dimensional his game. 

kdbarbershop
kdbarbershop

@mugzbo so what? Just an excuse. Frank Gore also had 6 coordinators, didn't seem to hurt his production. He made amazing plays working with what he had. Maybe you guys don't know 'cause you don't live in SF. Smith is horrible, and when he fails this year there will be no more excuses.

kdbarbershop
kdbarbershop

@fremontBill Then why did Harbaugh go out an get Kaepernick? I think its because he knew the 49ers were limited with Smith. As far as Smith's career was concerned, Harbaugh did wave a wand. No number one overall pick gets 6 years without producing. The fact that Smith was still around when Harbaugh turned around Smith's career was magic. And now Smith gives Harbaugh no credit. How bad is Smith? Did you forget how he got hurt. This clown doesn't even know how to slide, in time, to avoid getting hurt. Then whines when he can't get back in the line-up. Didn't hear Drew Bledsoe whine when Tom Brady replaced him. 

modsuperstar
modsuperstar

@kdbarbershop @MidwestGolfFan He got 6 years because the 49ers were a mess during that whole time. Alex was a victim of circumstance more than anything. I fully believe that if they had chosen Aaron Rodgers they would have messed him up too. Changing the gameplan every season, having no offensive line and throwing a rookie to the wolves aren't the best ways of grooming a QB. Sure the NFL these days it seems like guys can jump from college to the NFL without issue, but it's more that the NFL is bending its methods to cater to the QBs they're drafting instead of taking a square peg and jamming it into a round hole like they did for 40 years previously. The Niners had success when they started to cater the system to Alex instead of the other way around.

BY
BY

@kdbarbershop @MidwestGolfFan Are you kidding? You really expected Smith to be completely happy when he lost his job because of a concussion??? I don't ever recall Smith whining. He was responding to a question. You must not be much of a competitor because a competitor would want to play.

mugzbo
mugzbo

@kdbarbershop @mugzbo I don't live in SF but I've been a Niner fan since I watched my first football game with them in '96. I know what it was like watching during that same decade all Niner fans had to endure. Trust me, I'm still salty that we drafted Alex Smith when Rodgers was up on the board but truth is, he was nurtured from the beginning for success while Smith was thrown to the wolves. Frank Gore, Andy Lee, Joe Nedney and glimpses of VD were the only bright spots during those years and trust not one person is discrediting what Gore had to deal with. Son came in with barely any knees to walk on, low expectations because of all the injuries in college, and onto an awful team where he wasn't viewed as a savior figure. Smith was. Gore was the only thing to cheer for during that disgusting stretch and he'll always have a place for all Niners fans that had to witness that period.

Also, the thing is the RB position isn't enamored over by everyone while the QB position that is so highly chastised by the media. Throw that in with him being a #1 overall pick where expectations are high as hell, there's definitely be going to be hate.

jppdot3
jppdot3

@kdbarbershop @fremontBill 

I've never heard Smith whine about not starting. In fact it was widely noted how he handled the situation with true professionalism.