There has certainly been a lot of talk about the departure of GM Scott McCloughan in San Francisco over the last couple of days.
With the draft just weeks away, questions have been raised over who will lead the 49ers draft process and what the team’s direction will be going forward? Speculation is plentiful; answers (or even good theories) are few.
Like Coach Singletary fielding questions last summer during Crabtree-gate, I vow to focus on the people “who are here” and avoid contributing the growing whirlwind of rumors and speculation. One thing no GM can do or fail to do for the 49ers is produce plays on the field.
In a stretch filled with questions for the 49ers, one thing is known. There will be a very interesting QB competition in camp this year. With Shaun Hill no longer around to muddy the waters, the 49ers’ near-term (if not long-term) fate lies in the hands (and on the arm) of one or another of two very similar signal callers.
On the surface, Alex Smith and David Carr seem like carbon copies. Both are tall, strong, mobile QBs. Both were taken first overall in their respective NFL Drafts. Both have failed to live up to expectations to this point in their careers.
Physically, they are within one inch of each other in height, and one pound of each other in weight. They were virtually identical in NFL combine stats, and their career totals bear striking resemblances to one another.
Obviously the starting job will go to the player who wins it with his performance in camp and preseason. But with such seemingly similar pedigrees, does either player have the edge going into camp?
If you know where to look, there are some clues that suggest David Carr might have such an advantage (slight though it may be). Here are three reasons why David Carr could sneak past Alex Smith into the starting role:
There is something to be said for putting in your time in the NFL.
David Carr has done that, and his roles have been as varied as cities he has played in. David Carr has been around four years longer than Alex Smith, and you have to figure he’s learned something over that time.
David Carr has started nearly 50 percent more games than Alex Smith, 48 to 33. He has also proven his durability, starting all 16 games in four of his five years in Houston, while Smith has been plagued by injuries, missing the entire 2008 season.
Few QBs have found success in the league starting every game (or even most) from Week One of their rookie year. Carr is no exception. However, since leaving Houston, he has had some time to work in the back-up role, where many a great QB has matured and developed.
While Carr is approaching the “twilight years” range for most QBs (turning 31 prior to the start of the 2010 regular season), it is not too late for him to step in and play several more productive years (witness Kurt Warner).
Furthermore, his experience over the past three seasons seems to have been a boon to his development at QB. He has served his time playing behind two QBs with Super Bowl credentials (Jake Delhomme and Eli Manning).
His statistics in games the last two years in New York (or New Jersey), granted in VERY limited and inconsequential action, seem to suggest he has developed nicely since the days of running for his life in Houston.
I hate to hide behind stats. As any good statistics professor will tell you, can make numbers say anything you want.
It is difficult to accurately compare Carr’s career statistics to Smith’s because of the varied experiences and supporting casts they have had throughout their respective careers. However, limiting consideration to each QB’s three best seasons (in which they started at least five games) seems most appropriate in my mind.
For Carr this consists of his last three years in Houston: 2004, 2005, and 2006. For Smith, these years are 2006, 2007, and 2009.
It is hard to believe that a QB who set the record for most times sacked in a season could be more “escapable” than anyone, but some of the numbers suggest just that. Smith clearly has the edge in sacks per game (2.2 to 3.3), but you have to question how the offensive lines contributed to those numbers.
Smith played behind some suspect offensive lines, but most of the lines “protecting” Carr in Houston were downright abysmal.
When you combine sacks with rushing statistics, you get a much better idea of how a QB can elude the rush. Subtracting yards lost on sacks from yards gained on rushes per game, Carr was nearly two yards better than Smith over the span of the three years in question (Smith lost 5.2 yards net per game, Carr lost only 3.4).
That might not sound like a lot, but in a game of inches you never know. If nothing else, it suggests that Carr might have a better chance of slipping a pass rusher on a critical third down and scampering to move the chains.
Niner fans have seen far too many plays from Alex Smith that end up the arms of a defensive back or end with Smith eating the ball for a big loss in such situations.
Again overall statistics are eerily similar, but a few key categories suggest Carr might be able to help move the offense and advance drives better than Alex Smith.
Carr is a much more efficient passer than Smith, with a clear advantage in completion percentage over the respective three-year spans–63 percent to 56 percent.
These numbers suggest that when Carr drops back to pass, there is a better chance of the ball ending up in the hands of Michael Crabtree or Vernon Davis to move the team down field, rather than falling to the turf, or worse.
Carr’s average yards per attempt are also marginally better than Smith, 6.6 to 5.9. This could help the 49ers avoid those frustrating 4th and inches situations that have been all too common during the seven-year playoff drought.
Finally, Carr is a clear step up in Passer Rating, with a near 10-point advantage over Alex Smith in the three year windows considered. A Passer Rating of 80.9 will not land you in the Pro Bowl, but it has to be better than 71.2.
A Passer Rating of 80.9 is also better than some notable QBs in the league. Eli Manning’s career Passer Rating is only 79.2, and was only 73.9 during his Super Bowl season of 2007.
Ben Roethlisberger has a better career rating at 91.7, but had a worse rating both years he led the Steelers to the Super Bowl, 75.4 in 2006, and 80.1 in 2008. You don’t need a huge Passer Rating to win the Super Bowl.
These facts suggest Carr might have a bit of an edge going into camp, but it will still be a downright battle for the starting slot in Week One. No matter who wins, the 49ers stand to be better off than last year, but only time will tell.
Keep the faith!