It can be a difficult task to truly evaluate an athlete that is actively playing in the NFL and assess whether or not the guy is a bust. Obviously, his career is not over yet, nor can anyone predict the future. A player who may have been perceived as a disappointment early on may very well turn his career around later down the line.
But after 7 seasons, it is safe to say that Alex Smith is still a bust.
|Photo by: Getty Images|
You should not have to develop a first overall pick.
The only way the product of the University of Utah won't ultimately be labeled as a bust is if he finishes his career strong and wins a couple of Super Bowls, a la John Elway.
It may seem offensive to compare the two, but what Alex does have going for him is that he's almost identical to Elway in size, and besides the strong arm, he possesses similar tools -- such as intelligence and mobility.
Personally, I wouldn't bet on Smith becoming the next Elway, so for now my stance on him remains the same.
Many people have blamed Smith's growing pains on having to learn a new offensive system every year in his first few seasons -- five different coordinators in his first 5 years, to be exact.
I don't buy this as an excuse.
Alex is a very smart guy. In 2 years, he earned a bachelor's degree in economics with a 3.74 GPA while at Utah. He had even begun some work on his master's degree before being drafted by San Francisco.
It's clear that Smith can do anything he sets his mind to.
During his 3rd season, the 49ers utilized a system that was a combination of the previous 2 years. Granted, Smith went on injured reserve late in the season with a shoulder injury, but before that, he posted a 57.2 QB rating in 7 games with a career worst 48.7 completion percentage.
This was all in spite of having some familiarity with a system for the first time in his pro career.
Incumbent head coach, Jim Harbaugh, took over in 2011 and implemented another new scheme with the 49ers. The 2011 season was Smith's best by far, posting career-high totals in just about every category, which just goes to show that blaming system changes for his woes at the beginning of his career is an invalid excuse.
As a result of his elevated play, San Francisco fans found a new admiration for No. 11.
Just a season ago, those same fans booed Smith and chanted for David Carr. Yes, that David Carr. The 2002 first overall selection who flopped and has spent most of his career as a second-stringer.
I guess the saying is true -- winning cures all.
Now we have a myriad of supporters claiming that Alex Smith is one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. This is laughable, not only because he's had just one decent season, but because the inflation in his stats can be attributed to having a much improved team around him.
The organization has spent multiple high picks over the last few years to beef up the offensive line, including first round tackle Anthony Davis and first round guard Mike Iupati.
The running game has also progressively gotten better since 2007, and was ranked 8th in the league in rushing last season. They were also 3rd in the NFL in rushing attempts per game, which definitely helps the passing attack.
It is much easier to throw the ball effectively with a solid o-line and being able to keep opposing defenses honest with the run, not to mention playing with a lead. For the first time in Alex Smith's career, San Francisco has a legit defense. They were 4th in total defense in 2011.
They had never finished in the top 10 since drafting Smith prior to last year.
In both games that the 49ers have lost this season, they found themselves behind on the scoreboard early on. And both times, Smith could not carry the team to victory when they needed him to.
Now I'm not saying he hasn't ever brought San Fran back from a deficit. In fact, he had six 4th quarter comeback wins in 2011 alone.
That is fairly impressive.
But then again, Tim Tebow has had the same amount of comeback wins in his first 11 career starts, and he's far from a great quarterback -- so that argument can be nullified.
Of course, everyone remembers the incredible playoff game last season against the Saints where Smith would not quit and eventually won it for the Niners. That was an unbelievable performance to say the least.
It shouldn't have been so surprising though.
New Orleans was ranked 30th in passing defense. If anything, Drew Brees' performance against one of the best defenses in the NFL should have been celebrated. But the 49ers won the game, so all the attention fell on Alex.
This year has seen Smith become even more overrated.
Even though he's coming off a terrible performance against the Giants this past Sunday with 3 interceptions, he is still ranked 7th in QB rating and 6th in completion percentage. However, Smith is 29th in pass attempts per game and 26th in passing yards per game.
In other words, he's a top quarterback when it comes to efficiency, but only because he doesn't have to throw the ball much.
Those type of stats don't qualify you for superstar status. Smith is a great game manager, but that's about it. He's no better than Joe Flacco or Mark Sanchez.
If anyone wants to say that those numbers make Smith a top quarterback in the league, then I guess you have to say that Christian Ponder is one too, because they have very similar stats through the first 6 weeks.
The bottom line is that Alex Smith has potential, and he has certainly come a long way from his 1-TD/11-INT rookie campaign, but I don't think he will ever achieve individual greatness. He does, however, have a really good opportunity to continue getting better at his craft.
The 49ers are built to be dominant for years to come, so Smith has a chance to lead his team to multiple Super Bowl wins before his career is over.
But until that happens, I will continue to classify him as a bust.