Initially I wanted to keep quarterbacks off this list. It's pretty impossible for quarterbacks to be overlooked given the fact that today's sports media is practically obsessed with them. But when I thought about San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, it seemed this list would not be complete without him.
The fact that Smith has led the 49ers to the NFC Championship is nothing short of amazing. Only a year ago Smith was being booed off the field and was expected to leave in free agency as one of the all-time greatest NFL busts. Technically, the reason he stayed a 49er was because the lockout had taken away the time rookie quarterback Colin Kaepernick would need to learn the playbook.
New 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh wisely decided to emphasize the 49ers power running game this season. They have just the runner to do that with Frank Gore who had a Pro Bowl season with 1,211 rushing yards. Smith, therefore, was more of a game manager who doesn't have to make as much throws as most NFL quarterbacks.
Smith excelled in this role throwing for 3,144 yards, 17 touchdowns and only five interceptions. However, he has shed the game manager label by playing calm under pressure and winning some games for the team. Particularly his performance against the New Orleans Saints in the divisional playoffs last week has shown us that Smith is very much one of the reasons the 49ers have been so good this season.
For the 49ers to win the NFC Championship, Smith has to do more of the same. He'll be facing a New York Giants defense that has played well recently but is still ranked 29th against the pass. If the 49ers win, don't be surprised if it's because of Smith playing well against the Giants.