Which Smith are the Chiefs Getting?
After resurrecting his career under head coach Jim Harbaugh in 2011, Alex Smith was replaced midseason in 2012 by Colin Kaepernick, who proceeded to lead the San Francisco 49ers to within five yards of a sixth Super Bowl title. With Kaepernick now firmly entrenched as the 49ers’ quarterback of the future, Alex Smith will have a new home in 2013.
Smith’s 49er deal runs for two more years, but the key component in it is that he is due $8.5 million in 2013, with $1 million of that already guaranteed and the final $7.5 million guaranteed if he is on the roster on April 1. In other words, the 49ers needed to find a trade partner for Smith between now and the end of March.
It’s being reported that the 49ers have unofficially agreed to send Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs for the No. 34 overall pick this year and a conditional pick in 2014. If accurate, that is quite a haul for a quarterback who didn’t seem to have many options as a free agent last offseason. No trade can be officially announced until the league year begins on March 12.
So the question now becomes, which Alex Smith are the Chiefs getting? The one who struggled his first six years in the league, where he was well on his way to joining the likes of Tim Couch, JaMarcus Russell, and David Carr as No. 1 overall pick QB busts, or the one that significantly enhanced his play under Harbaugh in 2011-12? The answer lies somewhere in between.
The Bust Years (2005-2010)
Smith came into the league in 2005, and took over the starting job from Tim Rattay in Week 5 vs. Indianapolis and proceeded to go 9-of-23 for 74 yards and four interceptions in his debut. Things did not get much better, as Smith finished the year with 11 interceptions and only one touchdown pass (which came in the final game of the season) to go with an abysmal 40.8 QB rating.
In 2006, Smith improved under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, but after Turner left to take the San Diego Chargers’ head coaching job, Smith’s career fizzled. From 2007-2010, he was mediocre at best while going through four offensive coordinators, two season-ending shoulder surgeries, and clashes with head coaches Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary. Things got so bad in 2010 he was benched twice in favor of Troy Smith.
Year Comp Attempts Comp % Yards TD INT YPA QB Rating PFF Grade*
2005 84 165 50.9 875 1 11 5.3 40.8 n/a
2006 257 442 58.1 2890 16 16 6.5 74.8 n/a
2007 94 193 48.7 914 2 4 4.7 57.2 n/a
2008 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
2009 225 372 60.5 2350 18 12 6.3 81.5 +0.2
2010 204 342 59.6 2370 14 10 6.9 82.1 -12.6
*Total 864 1514 57.1 9399 51 53 6.2 72.1 -12.4
*PFF’s grading system goes back to 2008.
In his first six seasons, Smith threw more interceptions than touchdowns, and did not have a single season where he averaged 7 yards per attempt. The “bust” label bestowed upon him by 2010 was valid and it seemed certain he would attempt to revive his career with another team in 2011.
The Harbaugh Years (2011-2012): The Good
When Harbaugh took over the helm in 2011, the NFL was in the midst of a lockout. With virtually no offseason and a shortened training camp, Harbaugh decided that bringing back Alex Smith was his best option for the upcoming season. Smith returned Harbaugh’s trust by posting his best numbers to date and leading the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game. Smith’s stats were even better in 2012, completing over 70 percent of his passes and averaging 8 yards per attempt before Kaepernick took the job by storm in the middle of the season.
Year Comp Attempts Comp % Yards TD INT YPA QB Rating PFF Grade*
2005-10 864 1514 57.1 9399 51 53 6.2 72.1 -12.4
2011 273 445 61.3 3144 17 5 7.1 90.7 +16.6
2012 153 218 70.2 1737 13 5 8 104.1 +7.0
The Harbaugh Years (2011-2012): The Not So Good
While Smith’s stats above took a major uptick starting in 2011, there were still some red flags. While his 70.2 completion percentage last season was impressive, it also showed his unwillingness to take chances and throw the ball downfield. His average depth of target of only 8 yards was the fourth-lowest of all quarterbacks and only 8.7 percent of Smith’s passes traveled 20+ yards downfield in 2012. Among quarterbacks who started at least half their games, only Christian Ponder had a lower percentage.
2011 Rank 2012 Rank
Average Depth of Target 8.0 33rd 7.7 37th
Deep Passing 9.70% 28th 8.70% 33rd
Smith also led the NFL in 2011 by taking 44 sacks, and was sacked 24 times in nine starts in 2012 before being replaced by Kaepernick. Smith was sacked on one third of his pressures in 2012, which led the league by a wide margin.
Leading the Chiefs
Smith finds himself taking the helm of a team that tied for the worst record in the league (2-14) in 2012. Despite the abysmal record, the Chiefs did have some talent on the offensive side of the ball, though there are some question marks heading into 2013.
Smith finds himself behind an offensive line potentially losing two of its starters with the retirement of Ryan Lilja and Branden Albert’s pending free agency. Albert’s 96.6 Pass Blocking Efficiency rating tied for seventh among all tackles in 2012. With the Chiefs holding the first overall pick, it’s possible they will let Albert walk and use the first choice on Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel. As a group, Kansas City’s offensive line ranked 21st in our Pass Blocking Efficiency in 2012, and with Smith’s propensity to hold onto the ball and take sacks, it’s imperative they shore up their pass protection.
While Jamaal Charles was one of only four running backs to top the 1,500 yard mark last season, a further look into his numbers reveal a different story. Charles only forced 18 missed tackles rushing the football, and only Adrian Peterson had a higher percentage of yards come on runs of 15 yards or more. In addition, Charles’ 2.2 yard average after contact and 16.7 Elusive Rating ranked in the bottom half of running backs.
Peyton Hillis was mostly ineffective in limited carries last year, and appears to be one-and-done in Kansas City.
Despite some awful quarterback play, Dwayne Bowe was able to muster a solid 2.00 Yards Per Route Run figure in 2012, in addition to a +8.5 overall grade. Bowe is a free agent again in 2013, but with the Chiefs leaning towards selecting a tackle with the first overall pick, it’s seems likely Kansas City would slap the franchise tag on Bowe again in 2013 and let Brandon Albert hit the market.
After Bowe, there are a lot of question marks at the receiver spot. Dexter McCluster’s 1.22 yards per route run ranked 70thof 82 wide receivers, and Jonathan Baldwin’s completion rate of 43.5 percent was the worst of any wide receiver with more than 20 targets. Steve Breaston was let go after only catching seven passes last season.
It’s unreasonable to expect Alex Smith to match the numbers he put up the last two seasons in San Francisco, but if the Chiefs are able to retain Bowe, as well as replace Albert via the draft, Smith will have a few pieces to work with in new coach Andy Reid’s system. Smith should be able to improve upon his pre-Harbaugh numbers, but with the Chiefs likely drafting a quarterback to develop come April, whether Smith finds a long-term home in Kansas City or if he is just a stop-gap remains to be seen.
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