Following a horrendous 2-14 2004 season, the San Francisco 49ers ended up with the number one pick in the NFL Draft. It was no real secret which direction they wanted to go, they wanted a quarterback.
After releasing Jeff Garcia in the off season prior to the 2004 season, Tim Rattay was promoted to the starting quarterback for the new season. But Rattay flailed his way through one of the worst seasons the 49ers have ever seen.
Coming into the 2005 NFL Draft, there were two prime targets for the title of "Franchise Quarterback" for this once-proud team. Aaron Rodgers from the University of California and Alex Smith of the University of Utah.
Both quarterbacks were impressive in their workouts and no one really knew until the day of the draft who would be called from the pulpit for that coveted spot. The one who would try to follow the path built by Montana and Young.
With the first pick of the 2005 NFL Draft the 49ers selected Alex Smith. Aaron Rodgers ended up waiting until the end of the first round, where he was selected by the Green Bay Packers.
From here their paths would go in two completely different directions. I will try to demonstrate and examine what happened since that day.
Smith didn't have to wait too long for his time to come. In the sixth week of the 2005 season he was thrown into the fire, making his first start of his NFL career against the Indianapolis Colts.
Since that first start, the luster of his promise has lost some of it's glimmer. He threw more interceptions than touchdown passes, he admitted that he had trouble gripping an NFL ball, he argued openly with his coach and most importantly, he has been lost the past two seasons to injury.
How can it be that someone who seemed so phenomenal in college can have things go so wrong as a professional? Perhaps someone could ask Jeff George or Ryan Leaf?
I was able to follow Alex Smith's career through his college days. Particularly because I live in the state and follow the rival school. I have one theory that might add up to the inaccuracies between "college" Alex Smith and "professional" Alex Smith.
In 2004, Alex Smith led the Ute football team to an undefeated record, including a Fiesta Bowl victory over the Pittsburgh Panthers. His coach has also since made a name for himself in college football, Urban Meyer.
Urban Meyer came to the University of Utah and created an offense to build around Alex Smith. It was a spread attack that has since blossomed among college programs. Alex Smith was very versatile and dangerous when it came to running the ball.
But, here is where the problem starts. Smith was very effective in running Meyer's offense so it brought in more national attention. Smith was among the candidates for the Heisman Trophy that year.
Unfortunately, this spread offense is not run in the NFL. The NFL has not shown that such an offense can be efficient among faster, stronger defenses.
Urban Meyer can create a system to win games and make his quarterbacks efficient. But that does not guarantee them a successful professional career.
My question now, four years into Smith's career, is if Alex Smith was just a product of the system? Did he look good running Meyer's offense but cannot translate that into an NFL offense?
Another further example of my observation is Chris Leak. We all were able to see what Urban Meyer was able to do to him when he took over at Florida. But yet we do not see NFL teams lining up to sign him. Have teams learned their lesson from Alex Smith?
Only time will tell if Tim Tebow will follow the path that Smith and Leak have already trodden upon. Perhaps he will break the mold and be successful.
Now that we have seen what Alex Smith did, look where Aaron Rodgers is. He had to sit for a few seasons, but is now blooming as the new starter for the Packers.
Now let's take a look at this season. Smith is out with another injury. Coach Mike Nolan got fired and replaced for the time being with Mike Singletary. Vernon Davis being benched and tossed from a game by Singletary.
Where does the team go from here? Rumors are already spreading about Smith's future. Perhaps he will be kept and turn into a productive quarterback in the league. Maybe he will be cut and find a future in another city. Or maybe his career has found it's end before it really ever began.