Alex Smith: An average quarterback from an average draft

Posted by Katie Peverada

Of the 14 quarterbacks drafted in the 2005 NFL Draft, eight are still active. Of those eight quarterbacks, four are currently backups, two are solidified starters and two are starting in the place of injured starters. Three of those quarterbacks have been to at least one Pro Bowl and one has even won a Super Bowl. Overall, it wasn't the strongest quarterback draft class in the history of the NFL (think 2004 or 1983, maybe), but it also wasn't the worst (think 2007, definitely). One player in particular is the epitome of the 2005 quarterback draft class.
Alex Smith, the first overall pick in 2005, is currently entrenched as the starter for the 4-0 Kansas City Chiefs. Smith, though, took a while to get to the position that he is in.
Drafted by the San Francisco 49ers, Smith bounced in and out of the starting position from 2005-2010. He played only nine games in his rookie season, but if his 11 interceptions, one touchdown pass, 50.9% completion percentage and 40.8 overall rating gave any indication of what his future as an NFL quarterback would be, it was going to be that of a bust.
The 2006 season went little better (if throwing for 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions is better). Smith lost much of 2007 and all of 2008 to injury, and then he lost the starting quarterback job to Shaun Hill coming out of training camp in 2009. Smith was, by proof of his stats and injuries, a bust. Or, at the very least, a below-average quarterback.
But with the exception of Aaron Rodgers, who had thrown for over 4,000 yards in his first two seasons as a starter, Smith fit right in with draft mates Derek Anderson, Kyle Orton, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jason Campbell. They were all quarterbacks who idled at average, sometimes having spurts of greatness but, more often than not, having no spurts at all.
During the 2009 season, Smith won his job back, recorded the first 300-yard passing game of his career and led the 49ers to an 8-8 finish. In 2010, Smith struggled to hold down the job, and San Francisco finished the season at 6-10.
Smith started 50 games during his first six seasons and won only 19. But things started to look up for him. Or at least average.
Despite being average or below average in most statistical categories, incoming coach Jim Harbaugh elected to re-sign the free-agent Smith and see what the bust-labeled quarterback could do.
The 2011 season was Alex Smith's best season of his career; he led the 49ers to a 13-3 finish and an overtime-loss-to-the-New-York-Giants game away from the Super Bowl. In Harbaugh's offensive system, one that stressed efficiency, Smith thrived.
If thriving is being average, that is.
Smith was 11th in the league in completion percentage (61.3), 19th in passing yards (3,144), 17th in touchdown passes (17) and ninth in quarterback rating (90.7).
Smith was efficient and managed the game. It also helped that the San Francisco defense was ranked second in the league. Smith no longer had to take risks with a forced throw or long toss.
Everybody knows the story of 2012. Smith was leading the league in completion percentage (70%) when he suffered a concussion in Week 10. Colin Kaepernick started in Week 11 for a concussed Smith and never looked back, leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl where they lost by three points.
Smith was traded to the Chiefs in the offseason, but Kaepernick's struggles in Weeks two and three of this year had some questioning the 49ers decision to move forward with the more-mobile quarterback. Where was the dependable Smith when you needed him?
Being average in Kansas City.
Through Week four , Smith is 18th in completion percentage (60.3), 20th in passing yards (957), 11th in touchdown passes (7) and 14th in quarterback rating (89.8). Not the best, but clearly not the worst.
Despite all his averageness, when compared to the rest of the 2005 draft class, Smith is arguably the second-best quarterback behind Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers, though, is in a class of his own. But what about the others in the 2005 draft class?
Just as Smith produced a few bad seasons from 2005-2008, so too did the quarterback draft class of 2005 with Stefan Lefors, James Kilian or David Green.
And just as Smith had a couple okay seasons in 2009 and 2010, there are a few okay quarterbacks still remaining from the 2005 draft, as Campbell and Orton both turned out okay.
In 2011, Smith played average, which for him was exceeding what he had done in the past. In some ways, he had exceeded expectations, just as Anderson, Fitzpatrick and Matt Cassel all did after being drafted.
So, Alex Smith is a game manager. He's an experienced veteran that is efficient in the way he plays. He doesn't try to force throws; he just plays to the system that he is in. Maybe 2013 will turn out to be different. Maybe Smith will have Rodgers-esque numbers. However, it is doubtful that Smith will put up big numbers as doing so would be above-average, something the 2005 draft class is not.

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