Early on in the NFL season, I claimed that Alex Smith was still a bust. Some people agreed with me, but I also took some heat from 49er loyalists and Smith apologists. However, as we near the final game of the season, it's clear that my statement has been confirmed.
Jim Harbaugh and Colin Kaepernick have put the proverbial nail in the coffin.
|Photo by: Stephen Lam|
So what does any of this have to do with Alex Smith?
The answer is simple.
Had the 49ers not lost Smith as their starting quarterback earlier in the season and subsequently benched him the rest of the way for second-year man, Kaepernick, San Fran might have very well "choked" in the playoffs for the second consecutive time.
While some would argue that any halfway decent quarterback could have led a team toting quite possibly the best defense in the league to the Super Bowl, I say that is not true.
Kaepernick has been carrying the offense since coming on for Alex back in Week 10, whereas Smith was never anything more than a game manager. He was successful largely because of the contributions of the running game, namely, Frank Gore. Kaep, on the other hand, is the focal point of the offense because of the skill set he brings to the table.
During the first 9 regular season games in which Smith started, Gore had three 100-yard rushing games, averaging only 15 carries per contest. In the last 7 regular season games in which Kaepernick started, Gore failed to reach the 100-yard mark once, even though he carried the ball an average of 17 times per game.
This further proves the primary reason why San Francisco was successful early in the year, while their late season success can be attributed to the play of No. 7.
Statistically, Alex Smith is a pretty decent quarterback. He is an efficient game manager, thus giving him a solid completion percentage, touchdown-to-interception ratio, and QB rating. The problem is that when asked upon to air it out and come from behind in a game where the Niners have fallen behind, Smith is not the man for the job.
Sure, Smith had that surprising postseason performance at home to beat New Orleans last year, but Kaepernick helping the 49ers comeback from 17 points down on the road was more impressive. The stats say otherwise, but the situation was tougher for Kaep.
Smith then had a chance at home, in a close game against New York, to get the Niners to the big game, but failed to put enough points on the board. He completed less than 50% of his throws in what was the biggest game of the season. Kaepernick completed a whopping 76% of his throws in the most important game for San Fran this year.
In last year's playoffs, Smith finished with a 52.9 completion percentage. Kaep has a respectable 63.5% through his first two career postseason starts.
To sum it all up, the second-round pick out of Nevada has outperformed, and without a doubt, exposed the 2005 first overall pick out of Utah as a bust. No. 1 picks should be polished enough out of college to make an instant contribution and be the undisputed "quarterback of the future" for their franchise.
With virtually the same roster, a quarterback chosen 35 spots lower than his teammate has had more success in less time. In 7 years, Alex Smith failed to do what Colin Kaepernick has been able to accomplish in his second year in the league, and without even having a full season of starting under his belt.
And even if the 49ers end up losing in the Super Bowl, it is almost guaranteed that Kaep will be named the starter for the 2013 season.
What does that mean for Smith?
Like I said before, Alex isn't a worthless quarterback. He has talent and is capable of starting for many teams. He just isn't able to carry an offense on his own. With that said, and the fact that the Niners just gave him a contract extension last offseason, I can see San Fran trading away the underachieving first overall pick.
Some of the possibilities for a new home are the Chiefs, Cardinals, Jets, Vikings, and Jaguars. All these teams suffered from bad quarterback play this season. With the exception of Minnesota, I think Smith will have a hard time turning his luck around with any of these organizations. He needs a strong running game and top defense to be able to go far, and the Vikes are the only team even close to meeting that criteria.
But to be honest, I think Kansas City and Arizona will be the top bidders for landing the former Ute.
Therefore, even though he might be lucky enough to start next year, I think Smith will continue to have a hard time proving himself as a legitimate first round pick.
Fortunately for him, though, he might finish his career with a ring, thanks to Jim Harbaugh and Colin Kaepernick.