Alex Smith is entering his eighth year as a pro. His passer rating has improved with each year (with the exception of 2008, when he didn't play), and in 2011, at 27, he reached 90.7 percent.
On the other hand, he also led top QBs in sacks with 44.
He is sometimes dismissed as an accomplished journeyman, an increasingly reliable "efficiency player" who can't throw deep—he's not even on most leaderboards in that category—but he can manage a game well and occasionally shows true brilliance.
Still, his critics insist that the best he could ever be is a Matt Schaub-type player. Or else, a Matt Hasselbeck.
Yet his passer rating this last year is well above Hasselbeck's, as well as Rivers', Vick's and Newton's ratings. And if the bottom line wins, in his seventh season Schaub went 6-10. In 2011, he went 7-3 in the 10 games he played.
The question is, where is Smith in his career arc? Are his best games behind him or in front of him?
Consider some QBs who are great or near-great, or at the least well-remembered, and where they were at this point in their careers. These players are not necessarily comparable to Smith in terms of arm strength, style of play or the magic chemistry they create to win, but these are all pros who have had long careers.
And all have been noted for their courage, for their unwillingness to lose.
What you notice is that, very often, a career includes a big year in the first three, then falls off, then resumes. A classic bell curve is unusual. Often, you also see the best years late in a career.
Now, of course, there are nearly an infinite number of factors that make-or-break a game, much less a season, so this kind of analysis is really just speculation based on a few statistics. Still, it's interesting to see where other quarterbacks were at this point in their careers.
(All statistics used in this presentation come from either profootballfocus.com or pro-football-reference.com.)