I am about to break rule number 1 for 49ers fans and say that the reason that the 49ers have not made the playoffs since 2002 is not Alex Smith’s fault.
The narrative that has developed over the years is that the NFL is a passing league and that you cannot win without a great quarterback. While having a good quarterback doesn’t hurt I find the conclusion that this is a passing league as jumping to conclusions, there have been many quarterbacks with similar stats to Smith to lead their team to the postseason.
Having a great quarterback certainly helps but I will submit that more than any other sport that football still is a team sport that the quality of your supporting cast matters more than just having a great player at one position.
With regards to the 49ers I would submit that Alex Smith has been a league average quarterback and that with 6 teams from each conference a league average quarterback should be enough to get to the playoffs at least one time.
He most certainly has not lived up to the inflated expectations of a number one overall pick but if we look at Alex Smith objectively he hasn’t been as bad as you would expect from the 49ers record over his stretch as the starting quarterback.
Smith in his five prior seasons has had what I would call horrible seasons twice, in his rookie season (that is understandable and also 2007 where he started just 7 games because of injury) other than that he has been about league average even considering that he hasn’t had continuity at the offensive coordinator role or a head coach that has a clue of what to do with an offense.
I think that 49ers fans have been spoiled with the likes of Joe Montana, Steve Young and then Jeff Garcia as their starting quarterbacks coming back to back to back. The worst of these three was Garcia’s 2003 season where he was essentially a slightly above league average quarterback or in other words just a few percentage points better than Alex Smith.
So while Smith hasn’t been the pro-bowler like his predecessors he certainly hasn’t been the worst quarterback in the NFL in this stretch. In fact he has been more often than not a league average passer than he has been a bottom of the barrel embarrassment.
Here are Smith’s adjusted passer ratings’ according to Pro-Football Reference:
49, 92, 66, 98, 98
You’re reading that correctly, he has three seasons where he has been within eight percent of league average and two where he was basically better than half the other quarterbacks in the league.
This may be an unpopular opinion in 49er land but minus his first couple “learning” years Smith has not been a quarterback that has killed the team.
So when Jim Harbaugh says that he thinks that he can win with Alex smith I believe him. I don’t think Smith is going to the Pro-Bowl any time soon but he certainly is not what has been holding back this team the last few years.
Smith is an okay quarterback and has tools to be better than average, with better coaching and continuity he might just get to that next level. He isn’t the answer to who will lead the 49ers to a Super Bowl but he also isn’t the answer to who has been holding them back either and he might just serve as a bridge to the next quarterback who can take a season or two to learn the ropes from Harbaugh.
Smith is an okay quarterback and can serve as a placeholder for Harbaugh’s hand chosen successor who if the hype is correct will lead the 49ers to the Promised Land and that sixth ring that the Bay Area craves. Give him time and don’t come down on him because he is a game manager and not a gun slinger.