In 2005, the 49ers were charged with the task of drafting their QB of the future. The two elite prospects under consideration at that time were Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers. As we all know, the 49ers went with Smith.
Smith and Rodgers clearly have gone two entirely different directions to this point in their respective careers. Rodgers watched from the sidelines, as Brett Favre engineered the Packers for three seasons, then was handed the reins of their high powered offense in 2008. Smith, on the other hand, was thrust into the starting lineup in Week 5 of his rookie year.
Aaron Rodgers inherited a 13-win Packers team that was fresh off a trip to the NFC Championship. Alex Smith inherited a two-win team that was fresh off the worst record in the NFL.
Since 2005, Smith has dealt with a severe right shoulder injury, has had five different offensive coordinators in his first five seasons, has played behind one of the weaker offensive lines in the NFL, and has played with a reprehensible set of receivers. He has been yanked in and out of the lineup, in favor of NFL journeymen like Tim Rattay, Shaun Hill, and J.T. O'Sullivan.
This is no knock on Rodgers by the way. He was granted a much better situation, but the Cal product certainly has made the most of it. He is a top-five quarterback, and directs one of the premiere offenses in the game today. He has hit the ground running essentially from day one as the starter. Moreover, it's not like the two are directly competing. Smith and Rodgers can both succeed, and I think as time goes by they both will.
There is obviously no comparison Tom Brady, but I believe there is one important thing of note. Brady went from 24 touchdowns in 2006, to 50 in 2007 when the talent around him improved with the acquisitions of Randy Moss and Wes Welker.
The bottom line is, football is a team game. As the pieces around you improve, the likelihood of your success improves as well. Similarly, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis will aid tremendously in Smith's development going forward.
The notion that he is a bust is premature and irrational. He's had many poor moments, but a decent share of good play as well. As I've mentioned throughout the article, there have been various obstacles for Smith to overcome, and he's done reasonably well in doing so. This will be his sixth season, but he's only played the equivalent of less than three full seasons (43 games). The book has not been written on Alex yet.
A Ryan Leaf or JaMarcus Russell bust situation this is not. Smith, who just turned 26 in early May, already has two solid seasons under his belt.
In 2006, and again last season. Despite playing in just 11 games in 2009, Alex posted 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. His QB rating was 81.5, which put him on par with Carson Palmer and exceeded that of Matt Hasselbeck and Jay Cutler. Smith's completion percentage of 60.5 percent was higher than that of Donovan McNabb and Matt Hasselbeck.
I admire how Alex Smith continues to persevere despite consistent setbacks. I can't recall a quarterback who was forced to overcome more adversity than Smith has in his five years.
Now that the 49ers have granted Smith a more fluid, cohesive situation I fully expect a breakout year of sorts. Despite his struggles, he has willingly restructured his contract on two seperate occasions to aid the 49ers' salary cap situation. JaMarcus Russell and his bloated (no pun intended) No. 1 overall pick salary never did that.
The talent around Smith has grown exponentially in recent seasons. Gone are the days when mediocre players like Brandon Lloyd, Arnaz Battle, Antonio Bryant, or Darrell Jackson are considered his No. 1 receiving target.
For the first time in his career, Alex will be playing under the same offensive coordinator for a second season. He will play alongside legitimate offensive threats in Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, and Michael Crabtree. The offensive line was a big area of focus in the offseason, particularly in the NFL Draft. For the first time in his short career, Alex Smith is in a realistic position to succeed.
With respect to my proclamation that Alex will be an NFC Pro Bowler in 2010, the logic behind it goes as follows. Kurt Warner retired. Brett Favre's status for 2010 is uncertain. Donovan McNabb has moved to browner pastures in Washington. There are still a number of elite signal callers in the NFC, including Drew Brees, Tony Romo, and Aaron Rodgers.
Alex Smith definitely still has his fair share of doubters. He has a lot of work to do to repair his image, particularly with 49ers fans. But after a solid 2009 season and what believe will be an outstanding 2010 campaign, the Alex Smith bandwagon is going to be overflowing.
He is fully healthy for the first time since his rookie year, has a phenomenal supporting cast, and now plays alongside an elite defense to boot. I have a great deal of optimism that Alex Smith is going to thrive in 2010 and beyond.