Alex Smith: Why the San Francisco 49ers' Quarterback Is Elite

Baily DeeterSenior Writer IIISeptember 20, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 16:  Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers in action against the Detroit Lions at Candlestick Park on September 16, 2012 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Lots of people expected big things from Alex Smith and the 49ers right away. But, he continued to disappoint 49ers fans with his struggles.

Now, things are going his way. And when things go his way, they go the 49ers’ way.

Smith has dominated the Packers and Lions in San Francisco’s first two games while guiding the Niners to a pair of huge wins. In those games, he has combined to throw for 437 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, continuing his streak of nine games without throwing an interception.

What kind of quarterbacks are able to do that while also throwing for 13 touchdowns in that span? Elite quarterbacks. And Smith fits right in with the cream of the crop.

He is known as a game-manager, yet he really isn’t one. Smith is pretty accurate, and he has shown more confidence while making his throws against Green Bay and Detroit. His decision-making skills are much improved too, and as a result, he’s posting great numbers.

Everyone has doubted Smith, his ability to step up in the clutch, his ability to lead a team and more. Despite all the criticism, he stayed in San Francisco for all these years, and fought through the criticism. Because of that, the Niners are winning.

It’s hard to understand what factored into Smith’s decision to stay in San Francisco, especially when the 49ers pursued and looked like they were going to land Peyton Manning. However, because he did, the Niners are the best team in the NFL.

Smith has a great coach in Jim Harbaugh, who has definitely helped him polish his quarterback play. As time has gone on, Smith has learned to be more aggressive while also keeping his interception totals down. If he keeps playing like this and throws around five interceptions like he did last year, he could be an MVP candidate.

It feels weird to say that, especially after watching the Niners and Smith perform horribly for six years. But it’s true. And it would also be true to say that Smith is elite.

He doesn’t try to do too much, and he doesn’t force passes. With good instruction from his coaches, he’s learned to take sacks instead of forcing passes and throwing a lot of interceptions. His decision-making is great, and every tool in his quarterback toolkit got much better and sharper over the offseason.

Over the summer, I wrote an article power ranking the NFL quarterbacks. I clearly wasn’t thinking straight, as I left Smith off the list (and the honorable mentions). If I rewrote this with the knowledge of what he did over the offseason and his first two games, he would easily be on the list.

Only the best of the best are able to avoid forcing passes and throwing a lot of interceptions. Smith does that, and he’s able to throw for touchdowns, too. Because of that, and because of the fact it’s been about 10 months since he’s thrown an interception (during a game that counts), it’s impossible to say Smith isn’t elite.

And everyone else should agree.