You guys know that I’m very active when I describe the 10 best quarterbacks in today’s NFL. My rankings come from hours and hours of research and thoughtful conclusions, and none of that “all he does is win” crap.
Apparently someone at NFL Network forgot the memo, because they created a list ranking the 10 best QBs heading into 2015. At #10? Alex Smith.
Now I can understand most of the rankings. Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, ad Andrew Luck came off their best seasons yet, and Aaron Rodgers is the reigning MVP. I would put Peyton Manning in the top 5 as well, but the health factor makes sense.
But Alex Smith? At 10? Ahead of guys like Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, Cam Newton, Ryan Tannehill, and Matthew Stafford?
Elliot Harrison, the guy who made the list, explained his reasoning, saying Alex Smith’s getting “some of the help he needed” which includes offensive linemen and receivers. Harrison went on to say the defense will help keep Smith from putting “up 35 points on the board to win.”
While I can respect Harrison’s opinion and his right to do so, I completely disagree.
First off, Alex Smith hasn’t been close to a top 10 active QB in any season since the 49ers drafted him in 2005. Secondly, this whole “He needs help” narrative that’s going on is ridiculous. Smith is 31 years old, a 10-year veteran in the NFL, and he gets excuses for being a mediocre-at-best quarterback because of a “bad supporting cast.”
But you should know me well enough that I’m not just going to say it. I’m going to spray it, and prove that Alex Smith’s cast is much better than what the general consensus at NFL Network is, with stats, film, and charting. So buckle up, because the Narrative Killer is on the loose once again.
- “Alex Smith Is A Winner.”
My favorite of the narratives. Alex Smith as a starter is 38-16-1 since 2011, which is great if you enjoy comparing quarterbacks by wins.
But for the rest of us, this tells us nothing. From 2005-2010, he was 19-31 as a starter. Not so impressive now when you think about it. The 2011 and 2012 49ers had the #2 ranked defenses in the league, with the run game ranking 8th and 4th respectfully. The 2013 and 2014 Chiefs had the 5th and 2nd ranked defenses, and the 10th most rushing yards.
It gets worse, because here’s how Smith’s handled it since 2011. Below is a chart of games where Smith threw 0 touchdown passes since 2011. There are 18 games total, and you’d think the 49ers and Chiefs struggled in those games, right? Well…
A 12-6 record? Throwing 188.8 yards per game? Doing this against opponents with a combined 125-140 record? Really? That’s not even something a top 15 quarterback would do, let alone top 10. Smith’s defenses have also done most of the work, limiting opponents to 15.6 points per game.
Advanced stats aren’t so kind either. Smith has a 41.9 Total QBR average in these 18 games.
Since 2011, Smith has thrown 71 touchdown passes, and has 122 touchdown passes in his career. In comparison, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Tony Romo have all thrown more touchdown passes from 2011-2014 than Smith’s entire career.
Incredible, isn’t it? Let’s move on.
- “Alex Smith Doesn’t Make Mistakes.”
This is 50% correct. Alex Smith does not make a lot of mistakes. However, while this benefits him, it’s also his greatest weakness.
For reasons unexplainable to anyone except Alex Smith, he simply doesn’t have the desire to throw some of the riskier passes a lot of active QBs would. This has less to do with ability as it does mentality, as Smith plays a scared type of football, mostly limiting himself to checkdowns, dumpoffs, and screens to runningbacks and tight ends. As we know, this has often led to huge touchdown plays, while at the same time keeping his interception percentage low.
But would any of us want to credit the QB for a short throw that went for a ton of yards after the catch (YAC)? I wouldn’t, unless he did something spectacular in the pocket. Football Outsiders’ Cian Fahey cited that Smith had the least amount of interceptable passes of any quarterback in 2014, while also citing that he rarely pushed the ball downfield.
Recently, I completed a deep ball study of 32 quarterbacks from 2014, where I sat down, watched every deep ball pass of the 32 QBs surveyed, and charted/graded them. Smith did not have a bad downfield ball from what I saw, which makes the lack of attempts all that confusing.
I don’t really see what’s so special about what Smith does. I’m positive that almost every starting QB in the NFL would succeed in Andy Reid’s system if they were required to throw the same amount of air yards and risk free passes as him. While it’s good to have a QB not screw up on his throws, it requires little effort from any pro to do so.
For more on why exactly Smith’s lack of risk taking is his biggest flaw, let’s had to the 3rd and final narrative.
- “Alex Smith Does Not Have Weapons.”
I could just end this debate by saying this; Jamaal Charles, Knile Davis, Travis Kelce, Jeremy Maclin, and D’Anthony Thomas. That’s a pretty good list of athletes to play with, yet for some reason Smithy gets a pass from some.
Continuing with the idea that Smith’s risk free passing is keeping the Chiefs from being a true contender, how do we prove it? Well for one thing (this should be obvious by now), Chiefs receivers “combined” for a total of zero touchdowns. The popular thing to do seems to be to blame the receiving core. This is somewhat acceptable, if your QB was a rookie.
Alex Smith will be entering his 11th season in the NFL. Blaming this on the receivers doesn’t make any sense. While some blame can be assessed, Smith is not off the hook. Why? He seemed to enjoy missing open receivers on the daily.
Take for example the Thursday Night Football game against the Raiders, otherwise known as Oakland’s first win of the season. With 9:07 left in the 4th quarter, on 3rd and 3 from OAK’s 7-yard line, the Chiefs and Raiders were tied at 17. Dwayne Bowe was wide open near the end zone, but for reasons that have yet to be confirmed, Smith did not throw to him. Instead, Smith threw the ball out of bounds, opting for the go-ahead field goal instead.
That might seem like just one play, but Raiders QB Derek Carr ended up leading a dramatic comeback drive, and the Chiefs ended up losing 24-20. They finished the season 9-7, but ended up missing the playoffs. One more win would have gotten them in. Perhaps they could’ve asked Smith to throw the damn ball?
And if you think I’m being picky, then I’ve got great news for you; this has disturbingly happened more times than it should have. Take a look below.
Photo #1: Week 2 at Denver:
On 2nd and 13 in the 3rd quarter (10:22), Alex Smith has 2 wide open targets in this shot; one in the upper middle near the 35-yard line, and another target near the 45-yard line on his right side. The first option over the middle is a bit too risky however, as 3 guys surround the target. The better throw would be the guy on the 45-yard line.
Instead, Smith decides to scramble for 2 yards. Bold strategy, Cotton.
Photo #2: Week 16 at Pittsburgh:
On 1st and 10 in the 3rd quarter (13:42 3Q), Smith throws to a wide open Albert Wilson, who managed to create easy separation for what should have been the go ahead touchdown (it was 10-6 Pittsburgh at the time).
Instead, Smith’s pass sails over the head of Wilson, falling incomplete. 3 plays later, the Chiefs would punt. Wasted opportunity.
Photo #3: Week 16 at Pittsburgh:
On 2nd and 10 in the first quarter (2:59), Smith has a wide open Jason Avant in the end zone. This would have been an easy bullet pass for the touchdown.
Instead, Smith overthrows Travis Kelce in double coverage. The Chiefs would settle for a field goal 2 plays later.
Photo #4: Week 12 at Oakland:
On 1st and 8 in the 4th quarter (10:33), Smith has an open target in the middle as he’s running. It’s not likely that it’ll be a scoring play, but it would get the Chiefs closer to the end zone.
Instead, Smith scrambles for 2 yards. 2 plays later, Smith would miss a wide open Bowe in the end zone and throw the ball out of bounds.
I could go on with these photos, but for the sake of time I’ll leave it at that.
And yet people blame that on the receivers? Even Matt Cassel threw a touchdown to a receiver. Why should anyone feel sympathy for what the Chiefs’ signal caller has dealt himself with?
There’s only one obstacle that’s holding back Alex Smith. It’s not his cast. It’s not the coaching.
Alex Smith’s mental factor is nearly non-existent. There are open lanes everywhere, throws with more reward than risk, and yet Smith failed to take advantage of most of that in 2014. He is literally the one thing holding himself back from a 30+ TD season, and getting new receivers won’t matter if you don’t have a QB willing to take the riskier throws.
That’s why I truly respect the playing styles of guys such as Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, Andrew Luck, and Russell Wilson. All 6 guys (save Peyton) are super mobile, and have great deep balls because they’re willing to take the high risk high reward throws. Alex Smith has so many chances to enter the same realm, but has not because of his scared playing style.
This is the same guy that was chosen by the 49ers as the #1 pick. A #1 pick should not be a game manager. Smith must change this in 2015, otherwise the Chiefs will likely be looking for a new quarterback.
Because the way I see it, Alex Smith is acting less like a franchise QB and more like a stopgap until Kansas City finds one.
(Photos via arrowheadpride.com, NFL.com and NFL Rewind)