In Bold Defense of Alex Smith - What the 49ers QB Has Been Missing

Steve ButlerCorrespondent IJune 23, 2010

ST. LOUIS - JANUARY 3: Quarterback Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers looks to pass the ball during the game against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on January 3, 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri.  The 49ers beat the Rams 28-6.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Alex Smith has been the victim of a bad system.

Honestly, I'm amazed that the guy didn't throw in the towel and go somewhere else. Not because he can't hack it, not because he isn't right. Until Mike Singletary took over as coach, the team has done nothing right for him. Some of you have recently read my arguments of the importance of receiver height. I did a little research to that effect here.

How important is receiver height to the development of a young QB? Don't even think about considering my opinion, because I won't consider yours. Let's consult the numbers.

Other than Freddie Solomon, who was the lone short, speedy receiver on the 49ers, does anyone care to guess the number of touchdown passes Joe Montana threw in his career before tossing one to a second wide receiver or tight end under 6'2"?

Are you sure you're ready for this?

It was his 190th career TD pass , and the receiver was no slouch either. Some guy named John Taylor, who 49ers fans may have heard of if they watched one game prior to the 1995 season.

Considering Joe Montana only threw 244 regular-season TDs while wearing a 49ers uniform, I don't expect any argument that, at this point, he was a well-seasoned veteran.

Lets evaluate Steve Young now. Since coming to the 49ers in 1987, the end of the 1993 season, aside from Taylor, how many of Steve Young's 105 TD passes were completed to WR's or TE's who were under 6'2"?

I suppose after the Joe Montana tidbit above, you're ready for this. Of his 105 TD passes as a 49er, only two of them meet that criteria.

I omit John Taylor and Freddie Solomon for many reasons, but the most important of these being that every team has room for one speedy slot receiver who is capable of taking a slant the distance, regardless of height. If John Taylor didn't play in the same decade as Jerry Rice, he may be in the Hall of Fame today. He would have been a number one receiver on three out of every four teams in the league in his day.

Now it's time to examine Alex Smith. In his career, he has thrown 37 TD passes. Fourteen of those have gone to Vernon Davis. Care to guess how many the next guy in line has?

That would be three. There are three players tied with three TD catches a piece from Alex Smith. The only one of them still on the team is Frank Gore. Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan have two career TD catches from Smith apiece.

As with those two QB's above, there is room for a WR who is dangerous in the slot. Michael Crabtree is gifted enough to make up for his height—I will buy that any day of the week. However, the Niners need to get a bigger, more physical receiver to play the spot where Josh Morgan is.

I rest my case, as it is right here in black and white.

I can already see the argument, "These two guys were handpicked by Bill Walsh, and they were just doing what they could with the receivers on the team."

I'm game to debate, so now we'll analyze Jeff Garcia. Garcia threw 116 TD passes as a 49er. The amount thrown to a wide receiver or tight end less than 6'3" tall is THREE. Yes sir, and all three went to Cedric Wilson.

Does it matter that Michael Crabtree is half an inch shorter than Jerry Rice? No, but what does make a difference is that the AVERAGE height of the receivers catching EVERY TD pass that Steve Young and Joe Montana ever threw is taller than every receiver that will make this year's 49ers squad , except for Vernon Davis.

Wow... Vernon Davis, you say? Do I even need to cover what happened last year? Viewing that stat, is it fair to speculate that Bill Walsh thought that taller receivers aided in the development of quarterbacks?

For a valid argument, we don't even need to discuss the fact that San Francisco has turned over an Offensive Coordinator every year he has been with the team, or the fact that NO TEAM obtains the top overall draft pick because they are extremely lacking at only one position, or even on one side of the ball, for that matter .

We don't need to discuss the play of the offensive line, or that up until this year, the fact that all of Smith's receivers were either past their prime or never struck capability in the number-one or number-two receiver range.

How about our drafting effort at the WR position? We've come on strong lately, but we had three huge misses in top 100 picks with Rashaun Woods and Derrick Hamilton in 2004, and Brandon Williams again in 2006. Woods was a huge bust as a first round pick, while Williams and Hamilton were third rounders.

The five receivers we drafted between 2004 and 2006 put up combined NFL totals of 164 receiving yards and 1 touchdown.

What are the other arguments? Let's hear them.

Should the 49ers have turned it around faster because Bill Walsh went from 2-14 to winning a Super Bowl two years later? Forgive me to answer a serious question with another here: Could rookie versions of Brett Favre or Peyton Manning do that with Mike Nolan?

Make no mistake about it, If Alex Smith is blaming his success on what I cite above, we're in trouble. Verbally he is not, but how good is his word?

My perception is Smith has the fire to be successful and to be a leader. It is tough when your arm isn't helping your confidence as a QB.

But, we have seen him chase down a Raiders linebacker to save a touchdown after throwing an interception in a meaningless preseason game. In the same game, he decked Raiders DE Greg Ellis to prevent a tackle for a loss. We have seen him take a pay cut humbly for failing to succeed in a system that didn't set him up to do so.

Will he catch Aaron Rodgers? I don't care. "To whom more is given, more will be expected." Could his team beat Aaron Rodgers head-to-head over the next couple years? You'd better believe it.

In my opinion, there are three foolish things you can say regarding Alex Smith today, and those are guaranteeing his success , guaranteeing his failure , and saying that the 49ers organization gave him all the tools he needed to do better than he has until now.

Alex, git 'er done. The Faithful are behind you.


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