2005 feels like it was ages ago, the #1 overall pick that year belonged to the San Francisco 49ers. They selected a Junior QB from Utah, Alex Smith. Smith barely played his Freshman season, made some strides his Sophomore year, and blew up in his Junior year. Smith threw for 2952 yards, ran for 631 yards, and scored a total of 42 Touchdowns( 32 passing,10 rushing). Smith’s College coach was Urban Meyer, Smith was a dual threat and led Utah to an undefeated season. Utah was one of three teams to be undefeated that year, the other two being USC and Auburn. Utah played #20 Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl and Smith led them to a 35-7 win.
Fast forward to the 2005-2006 NFL Season, Smith is now a member of a once proud Franchise. It is truly in a state of transition with Smith being the first piece of the rebuilding effort. Smith played in 9 games his rookie year, his numbers were horrendous. He threw 1 Touchdown and 11 Interceptions, his Quarterback rating for that year was an offensive 40.8. The 49ers brought in Norv Turner as the Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach and Smith improved drastically from his Rookie campaign. The next year Turner left the 49ers to become the Head Coach of the San Diego Chargers, Smith got hurt 7 games in to that season(his third). Quietly in 2009 and 2010 Smith made strides, he was labeled a bust since he wasn’t putting up the type of numbers that most deem appropriate of the #1 overall pick. Smith’s rating in 2009 was 81.5 with 18 TDs and 12 INTs; in 2010 Smith posted a rating of 82.1 with 14 TDs and 10 INTs.
The NFL Lockout is over, teams haven’t had any contact with their players. The 49ers have a new head coach in Jim Harbaugh, Alex Smith finally has a chance to get a new start via Free Agency and he chooses to stay. Smith was extended an extension before the Lockout, it wasn’t signed until afterwards. Harbaugh showed his faith in Smith by giving him a playbook, Smith held several “Camps” during the Lockout teaching players the plays. Alex didn’t want to start over, he felt he owed the 49ers his best. He wanted to prove that he could play the QB position at a high level, he wanted to prove that they didn’t “waste” that #1 Overall pick back in 2005.
The 49ers finished the regular season 13-3, they had one of the best defenses in the league as well as one of the best rushing attacks. Their perceived achilles heel was the passing game and the man playing QB. While several “Elite” QBs were putting up video game type numbers, Alex was simply doing what was asked of him. To most outside the San Fran fan base, that meant NOTHING. The 49ers were winning solely because of their defense and “soft” schedule. They didn’t have a soft schedule, they had one of the hardest road schedules in football. They played every member of the NFC East and went 3-1, they also played the Ravens and Steelers. Frank Gore didn’t finish as the NFL’s leading rusher, nor did the 49ers finish the season as the #1 ranked rushing offense. Which means Alex Smith must have did something OTHER than hand the ball off to Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter.
Smith threw for 3,144 yards, 17 TD’s and 5 INT’s which gave him a QB rating of 90.7. Smith finished the regular season 9th in Passer Rating in the NFL. The ability to limit his turnovers helped the 49ers lead the league in Turnover Differential, Smith had the lowest amount of INTs of any QB in the entire league. As the season progressed teams focused on shutting down Frank Gore and the running game, dared Alex to beat them and he did. The Giants tried to put the ball in Alex’s hands, as did the Steelers, the Lions, and many more. When called upon, Mr. Smith has made plays ALL SEASON LONG. The most recent example being this past weekend when the 49ers beat the Saints, Smith out-dueled Drew Brees in a wild Fourth quarter. Going into the game Smith got little credit, after the game wasn’t any difference outside of the 49ers fan base. Smith made history by throwing 3 TDs, rushing for one, and not turning the ball over. That achievement made him part of elite company, only 5 other QB’s in NFL History have done that in the Post Season.
This is not a plea for Smith to be considered an “Elite”QB, nor is it evidence of a Pro-Bowl Snub. However, this is a plea for those to be patient before labeling someone a bust or writing a player off. If people can pull for Tebow (whose coach just so happened to be Urban Meyer), how can you not pull for this kid? He CHOSE to stay and prove himself rather than leave and start fresh, it takes a unique type of character to make that decision. Seven Coordinators, several head coaches, multiple playbooks, and seven years later Smith has started to figure it out. Managers don’t achieve what Smith did this past season, managers are complacent in their roles. Smith is far from an Elite QB, he is the epitome of elite character though. Smith has exceeded his perceived role as game manager, could you MANAGE to respect him as more?
Thank you for reading, please leave your thoughts/comments below!!