With five primetime games and some great young players, the San Francisco 49ers are one of the trendy picks to have a breakout 2010 season, the question that remains is whether quarterback Alex Smith is up to the task of leading the 49ers to the NFC West crown and into the playoffs.
The paragraph that follows will quickly summarize Smith’s five seasons in the NFL:
Smith, the first overall pick of the 2005 NFL Draft has had a shaky start to his NFL career. He was in-and-out of the line-up during his rookie season. In 2006, a season in which he took every snap under center, he improved in every statistical category. That season showed that Smith had the ability to be a starting quarterback in the league as he led the 49ers to multiple comeback wins. In 2007, Smith was the starting quarterback until an injury to his shoulder in late September against the Seattle Seahawks caused him to miss three games. Upon his return, the rest of the season would be a disaster which culminated with Smith being placed on the injured reserve. During the 2008 season, Smith saw no action at all due to his shoulder injury. In 2009, Smith was the backup until Week 7. Since taking over the position, he has gone 5-5 throwing for 15 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and 2,144 yards. Smith has since remained the team’s starting quarterback.
Now, back in 2005, Smith was one of three quarterbacks selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. The other two quarterbacks being Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, and Jason Campbell, now with the Oakland Raiders. It is easy for many to say that the 49ers should have picked Rodgers instead of Smith. Here is a quick comparison of their numbers in their 5 seasons in the NFL:
Rodgers has surpassed Smith in every category, even while playing in four fewer games. However, Rodgers’ situation in Green Bay has been a whole lot more favorable than that of Smith in San Francisco. Rodgers was not thrown to the lions in his rookie season and had the luxury to sit back and watch one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time from the sidelines for three full seasons. With that in mind, I am willing to give Smith the benefit of the doubt.
Clearly, Smith’s shoulder injury has set him back. Perhaps his accuracy issues have something to do with that shoulder injury. If everything had gone as planned, Smith would by now be one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the league. The instability at the offensive coordinator position can also take a hit for Smith’s rather slow progress. This upcoming season will be the first in which Smith plays for the same offensive coordinator in consecutive seasons. Up until the second half of 2009, Smith played inconsistently and was 11-19 as a starter. The second half of 2009 showed that Smith now has confidence not only in himself but also in his promising receiving corps which consists of Michael Crabtree, Josh Morgan, and Vernon Davis. Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye seems to understand Smith’s game and will bring him along accordingly.
I expect Smith to improve greatly in this coming season. The addition of first-round picks Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati will help in both the passing and running games- putting less pressure on the quarterback. The 49ers running game will open up many opportunities in the passing game for Smith. Opportunities that Smith can ill-afford to pass up at this point in his young career. Should smith capitalize on those opportunities, the 49ers will certainly earn a spot in the playoffs next season.
There was a time in 2008 where it looked liked the chances of remaining a 49er were completely non-existent. Alex Smith restructured his contract and took a significant pay cut- one that many players in their “right” mind would never take. Had Smith not taken that pay cut, he would no longer be in San Francisco. It seems that things are working for the better, both for the team and Smith.
I am all in with Alex Smith as the starting quarterback for the 49ers. But, Smith is walking on a thin line and if the team fails to make the playoffs, I expect him to be looking for work elsewhere after the season.