For all the success and failure stories in the NFL, Alex Smith is in a league of his own. The first overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft was a failure over and over again, and one violent hit on the ol’ noggin ended his brief career resuscitation in San Francisco.
Smith was sent packing to Kansas City in a trade earlier this week, and the 7 year veteran is in a position to make or break his career. Although he enjoyed success under head coach Jim Harbaugh during the last two seasons, Smith has everything in the world to prove.
In his first two seasons Alex Smith struggled to justify his draft status, and it only went downhill from there. In 2007 he played through a shoulder injury and continued to struggle, and he flat-out lost his starting job prior to the ’08 campaign, before that season ended due to complications with the same shoulder. The next year he didn’t win the starting job, but eventually took over for overmatched Shaun Hill. In 2010 Smith had a hard time under his fifth offensive coordinator in five years, and when Jim Harbaugh came to town prior to the 2011 season, Smith’s career hung in the balance.
But this time Alex Smith found himself in a comfortable situation, and it allowed him to thrive. Smith has enjoyed enormous success over the past two years, but he still has his detractors. Criticized for small hands and a weak arm, many are quick to attribute Smith’s career revival to a talented 49ers’ roster and facilitative role in the offense.
So was Smith’s career revival a sign that he has what it takes to be an effective NFL starting quarterback, or was he only able to enjoy success once he had the NFL’s best roster (and top-5 running game) behind him? The answer is not clear cut.
Smith indeed has a weak arm, and it’s hard to overlook that the 49ers’ power running game and elite offensive line gave him the best possible complements. If Smith is to be judged by the team around him, what type of situation will he find himself in next year in KC?
Despite their abysmal record, the Chiefs do not have a talent-deficient roster. Running back Jamaal Charles is a homerun threat every time he steps on the field, and the Chiefs’ offensive line graded out as the 12th best in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. If Kansas City can bring back Dwyane Bowe, Smith will have the most dynamic receiving option of his career. The Kansas City defense frequently struggled, but they return enough quality starters to offer hope for a turnaround in 2013.
Kansas City is clearly not as bad as their proud ownership of the 1st overall draft pick would indicate, but this is a far cry from a San Francisco 49ers team that fields a number of quality backups who could play over some of KC’s starters. The 49ers provided a situation where any quarterback with a functional arm and mind could thrive, but in Kansas City Alex Smith will have far less around him. He has his work cut out for him, but success will show that Smith is more than a product of a stellar 49ers’ offense.