Alex Smith was never given the weapons to succeed.
By Orly Rios Jr.
After being granted an expansion franchise in September of 1998, the Cleveland Browns selected Kentucky quarterback, Tim Couch #1 overall in the 1999 NFL Draft.
Couch, who many analysts considered to be a "franchise" quarterback, came from pass happy Kentucky, where in two full seasons as a starter, Couch threw for almost 8,500 yards and 75 touchdown passes.
In his first full season in the NFL, Couch threw for more touchdown passes than interceptions (15-13), a feat he would not top again until his final season in Cleveland, when he threw 7 touchdowns to 6 interceptions. Couch finished his Browns career with 64 touchdown passes to 67 interceptions.
Much in the same steps as the Cleveland Browns, the newly formed Houston Texans drafted Fresno State quarterback David Carr #1 overall in 2002.
During his rookie season, Carr lead Houston to their first win in the franchise's first game, defeating the Dallas Cowboys 19-10, Carr however was also sacked 76 times during his rookie season.
By 2007, David Carr was out of Houston, having thrown 59 touchdown passes to 65 interceptions.
After finishing the 2004 season 2-14, the San Francisco 49ers entered the 2005 season looking to completely make over their team, hiring a new Head Coach in Mike Nolan, then drafting Utah quarterback Alex Smith first overall in 2005.
In 6 seasons with the 49ers, one of which was spent on injured reserve, Alex never lead the 49ers to a winning record and finished with 51 touchdown passes to 53 interceptions.
Aside from being #1 overall draft picks, what do Alex Smith, David Carr, and Tim Couch have in common?
Yes, they threw more interceptions than touchdown passes, but more importantly, all three of them were never given a solid foundation to grow upon.
Drew Bledsoe, Peyton Manning, and Troy Aikman, were all former #1 overall picks, and yet each of them was given a solid foundation to build upon.
Bledsoe, drafted in 1993, already had a quarterback's best friend in place in tight end Ben Coates, and in the following immediate years, the Patriots added offensive weapons Curtis Martin (1995 Draft, 3rd round) and Terry Glenn (1996 Draft, 1st round).
By 1996, New England was in the Super Bowl.
Peyton Manning took a similar route, only he had Wide Receiver Marvin Harrison (1997 Draft) on the roster before he even took a professional snap under center.
In the following years, the Colts added running back Edgerrin James (1999 Draft, 1st round), Wide Receiver Reggie Wayne (2001 Draft, 1st round), and tight end Dallas Clark in the 1st round of the 2003 NFL Draft.
Before Clark, Manning's security blanket was tight end Marcus Pollard, who in the six seasons he played with Manning, set career highs in yards, catches, and touchdowns.
Aikman, taken #1 overall in 1989, had Michael Irvin at his side after being taken in the 1st round of the 1988 Draft.
Over the next two seasons, the Cowboys added Running back Emmitt Smith in the 1st round of the 1990 Draft and brought over tight end Jay Novacek from the Phoenix Cardinals as well as WR Alvin Harper in the 1st round of the 1991 Draft.
Bledsoe, Aikman and Manning all succeeded because the foundation had been laid out for quarterbacks to succeed.
The idea behind a highly drafted quarterback was that by their third season, they should have progressed enough to where quarterback is no longer an issue. What the idea doesn't mention, is that a quarterback needs the tools to succeed within those first three seasons.
Bledsoe, Aikman, and Manning all had go to Wide Receivers in Harrison, Irvin and Terry Glenn. All had reliable pass receiving tight ends (Coates, Novacek, Pollard and later Dallas Clark). And finally, all had solid running backs (Emmitt Smith, Edgerrin James and Curtis Martin). Within three years of being drafted #1 overall, all three quarterbacks had made the playoffs.
Now take Couch, Carr and Alex Smith, and you've got a complete reversal in ideology behind the "third year is the make it-break it year for the quarterback".
For the Browns, Tim Couch was followed by 1st round picks Courtney Brown (DE) in 2000, Gerard Warren (DT) in 2001, and William Green (RB) in 2002.
Couch never had a reliable tight end option, never had a go to wide receiver and did not make the playoffs in his first three seasons.
Carr's 2002 selection was followed by Wide Receiver Andre Johnson from Miami in 2003 and a pair of defensive players in 2004 and 2005 (CB- Dunta Robinson and DT- Travis Johnson). Carr like Couch, never had a reliable running game or tight end, but unlike Couch, Carr had a go to WR in Andre Johnson. Carr too, didn't make the playoffs in his first three seasons.
And finally, we have the curious case of Alex Smith.
Smith, taken #1 overall in 2005 was given a steal with Frank Gore in the 3rd round of the same draft.
The 49ers followed the next three drafts with Tight End Vernon Davis in 2006, Linebacker Patrick Willis in 2007, and Defensive End Kentwan Balmer in 2008, passing on deep threat WR DeSean Jackson in the process.
Alex Smith only had two of the three legs on the QB tripod that are needed to succeed. The reliable tight end, the go-to WR, and the reliable RB. Three years after being taken #1, Alex Smith was not in the playoffs.
Now, six years later and a free agent, Alex Smith has the opportunity to get what he never could in San Francisco, stability and the third leg on the tripod.
When you look at the list of teams needing a quarterback, it's no wonder Alex scoffed at the idea of returning for a 7th season to the Bay Area, which was reported by the San Jose Mercury News following the season finale against the Cardinals.
Washington, Tennessee, Minnesota, Miami, Arizona and Seattle could all be in the running for Alex's services with the Redskins, Titans, and Vikings offering the most upside.All three of these squads are a quarterback away from being a playoff team, and Alex is a go-to WR away from being what so many hoped he would be with the 49ers, rock solid.
When Steve Young was picked up by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Supplemental Draft of 1985, Tampa Bay Coach Ray Perkins would tell Steve Young to "make something happen", an obvious hint at how bad the Steve Young Buccaneers were. Young also ended his two year stint with Tampa throwing for more interceptions (21) to touchdowns (11). Two years after Tampa selected Young, he was throwing 10 touchdowns to zero interceptions in eight games of spot duty for the 49ers.
In the end, what the difference for Young between Tampa Bay and San Francisco was could wind up being the difference for Alex Smith between the 49ers and whoever else he winds up with.