After Week 6 Struggles, Should We Pump Brakes on Alex Smith Elite QB Talk?

Jamal CollierAnalyst IIIOctober 15, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 7:  Quarterback Alex Smith #11 consults with head coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers during a game against the Buffalo Bills on October 7, 2012 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California.  The 49ers won 45-3.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Alex Smith is not an elite NFL quarterback. He just isn’t. The San Francisco 49ers signal-caller even looked downright pedestrian at times against the New York Giants at home in Week 6.

He threw three interceptions to the Giants on Sunday.

Sure, every elite quarterback is allowed to have a bad day. But Smith hasn’t had enough instances of putting the 49ers on his back to be considered an elite quarterback in the first place.

For example, Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers is an elite quarterback. His numbers disguised his prowess well at the beginning of the 2012 season. After throwing for 303 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in San Francisco in Week 1, Rodgers threw for a combined 444 yards, one touchdown and one interception in Weeks 2 and 3.

When Packer nation was sent into a simultaneous panic and uproar—a certain call was made to send Green Bay to 1-2 rather than 2-1—Rodgers and the Packers offense kept working.

He’s thrown 13 touchdowns and two picks in three games since.

Rodgers was drafted 23 spots later than Smith.

Smith has never thrown for 4,000 yards in an NFL campaign. He’s never thrown for 3,200 yards in a given year. He’s never thrown 20 touchdowns in one season. He has thrown 10 or more interceptions four times despite playing more than 11 games in only one of those seasons.

The 49ers have been a winning team in recent seasons in large part to their defense, not Smith’s “elite” quarterbacking.

Still, he has been getting better. That’s a very encouraging sign for a San Francisco fan despite the 200-yard, three-interception performance Smith had in the 49ers’ blowout loss on Sunday.

Smith was asked to throw the ball a career high 445 times last season and responded with a career-best completion percentage (61.3), passer rating (90.7) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (17 to five).

That’s progress.

Rodgers has topped Smith’s best season completion percentage and passer rating every year that he’s been a starter. He has not thrown for fewer than 3,922 yards in any full season as a starter.

That’s elite.

Smith is still having a career year in 2012. He’s enjoying his most accurate passing season to date (67.7 percent) and is on pace for 3,432 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

The yardage and touchdowns would be career-highs, but they simply are not elite.

And elite numbers are certainly a part of the conversation of whether a quarterback is one of the best.