NFC West: Tim Couch
He likes to throw long and deep, and he likes to put up a lot of points. And here’s another thing we know about Arians: He’s had some great quarterbacks.
With the draft less than a week away and speculation increasing that the Arizona Cardinals will take a quarterback with one of their six picks, what kind of quarterback Arians favors has become a hot topic.
Here is what we know: Arians has had a lot of success with taller quarterbacks who don’t run much. Just look at Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck. They can run, but don’t in Arians’ system. And most every quarterback that fits those dimensions has succeeded in his scheme.
Here’s a look at the past six quarterbacks Arians has coached and the top 10 quarterback prospects in this year’s draft, according to ESPN:
"How concerned 49ers fans should be after Denver game?" he asks. "IMO, not much, but wanted to get your take."
Sando: The 49ers have a well-coached defense stocked with front-line talent. They'll be fine as long as their key players remain available to them. Aldon Smith's health is one variable to watch.
The 49ers are not going to dominate on defense from wire to wire this season. They open at Green Bay. They play road games against New Orleans and New England. Even last season, the 49ers gave up yardage in huge chunks against the best offenses they faced.
To review, "The 49ers allowed 422.5 yards per game last season when facing Michael Vick, Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning and Tony Romo, up from 270.1 yards per game against all other quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Jay Cutler join Manning and Stafford on the schedule this season."
The 49ers should be better on defense even if their final stats aren't as good. They'll be more familiar with the scheme. They should be better at cornerback. The front seven remains fearsome.
But it's also possible the defense will find itself in tougher situations. The offense was sensational in avoiding turnovers last season. A few more turnovers would put opponents in better position to score points. The special teams were similarly dominant last season. A less dominant performance in that area would put additional stress on the defense.
I'm guessing the 49ers will take a couple steps backward from a statistical standpoint. But their defense should again be a strength and something that helps their chances in the postseason.
Some of the most dominant defenses in NFL history feasted on weak quarterbacks. As we discussed, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens faced Jay Fiedler, Brad Johnson, Kordell Stewart, Steve McNair, Mark Brunell, Vinny Testaverde, Jake Plummer, Kent Graham, Tim Couch, Scott Mitchell, Akili Smith, Doug Pederson, Ryan Leaf and a declining Troy Aikman.
How the 49ers' schedule shapes up will hinge, in part, on how well several less-proven quarterbacks fare this season. That list includes Christian Ponder, Mark Sanchez, Ryan Fitzpatrick, John Skelton/Kevin Kolb, Russell Wilson, Sam Bradford and Ryan Tannehill.
Dilfer was the "game manager" at quarterback for that Ravens team. He finds quite a few similarities and a few important differences. Dilfer also explains how both teams played to their strengths even when it meant sacrificing big plays on offense.
My initial reaction to the Ravens-49ers premise: Baltimore was better on defense. Those Ravens also struggled to find their identity early in the season, winning only five of their first nine games before closing the regular season with seven consecutive victories. The current 49ers are who they thought they were -- a team that could win with defense, special teams, the running game and efficient quarterback play.
That Baltimore team faced relatively weak quarterbacks at a time when defenses could get away with more menacing play. Former Ravens coach Brian Billick addressed this during an NFL.com column addressing the Ravens-49ers comparisons.
"When we won our championship, there was a void of great quarterback play in the league," Billick wrote. "Running the ball well, and not turning it over, was enough to augment our great defense. At the time, the Elways, Marinos, Montanas and Aikmans of the world were transitioning out of the game, and we were a few years away from the emergence of the great quarterbacks of today."
Those Ravens lost games against Jay Fiedler, Brad Johnson and Kordell Stewart. They went 1-1 against Steve McNair and 2-0 against Mark Brunell. They beat Vinny Testaverde and a young Jake Plummer. They also collected victories against an over-the-hill Troy Aikman, plus Kent Graham, Tim Couch, Scott Mitchell, Akili Smith, Doug Pederson and Ryan Leaf.
The current 49ers have gone 8-1 against a mix of opposing quarterbacks. They lost in overtime to Tony Romo, but also defeated Eli Manning and Matthew Stafford when those quarterbacks were at their best. They beat Michael Vick and Josh Freeman, who have subsequently struggled. They beat Andy Dalton, who appears promising, and also collected victories against Tarvaris Jackson, Colt McCoy and John Beck.
How these 49ers finish will ultimately determine whether the comparison holds up. My favorite line from Dilfer's column: "When I was asked this week if the San Francisco 49ers of 2011 reminded me of that 2000 Ravens team, I wasn't offended. I get it: great defense, good coaching, quarterback you hope doesn't ruin it."
Smith is playing better than that, and Dilfer says so. But that line captures the feeling quite a few 49ers fans had early in the season, if not as much lately.
- Teams drafted quarterbacks first overall 14 times in the last 24 drafts. The list: Sam Bradford (2010), Matthew Stafford (2009), JaMarcus Russell (2007), Alex Smith (2005), Eli Manning (2004), Carson Palmer (2003), David Carr (2002), Michael Vick (2001), Tim Couch (1999), Peyton Manning (1998), Drew Bledsoe (1993), Jeff George (1990), Troy Aikman (1989) and Vinny Testaverde (1987).
- Teams drafted quarterbacks second overall three times in the last 37 drafts. The list: Donovan McNabb (1999), Ryan Leaf (1998) and Rick Mirer (1993).
When teams sense an elite quarterback is available in a draft, that quarterback often doesn't make it past the first overall choice. Further evidence: All three quarterbacks taken second overall were the second quarterbacks taken in their draft classes.
Would you rather pull those names out of a hat at random, knowing you would get those players' careers as they played out, or would you rather use one of the top two choices -- or even one of the top seven, given where NFC West teams select -- to select a quarterback in the 2011 draft?
I'll continue with a look at his plans for the San Francisco 49ers, who hold the No. 7 overall choice.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Kiper's give: There were a lot of comments questioning why I could see my No. 1 overall Big Board player dropping this far on draft day. But consider the history: in 1987, I had Rod Woodson rated similarly, and he fell to No. 10 overall. In 1989, Deion Sanders was far and away the best athlete on the board -- he fell to No. 5. Champ Bailey was my best athlete and the top corner available in the 1999 draft, and he fell to No. 7. At this position, it simply happens, and San Fran should be happy if it does. Peterson is an immense talent. He checked in at 219 pounds and ran a 4.34 40-time in Indy. Enough said.
Sando's take: Yes, elite cornerbacks do tend last longer on draft day. I recall Mike Holmgren once saying his former defensive coordinator, Fritz Shurmur, only cared about front-seven players when drafting for defense. The drafts Kiper singled out -- 1987, 1989 and 1999 -- featured consensus No. 1 overall quarterbacks at the top. Vinny Testaverde went first in 1987. Troy Aikman followed in 1989. Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb and Akili Smith went 1-2-3 in 1999. The current draft class does not yet have a consensus No. 1 overall choice. That could make it easier for a non-quarterback to threaten for the top choice. The 49ers would be thrilled, in my view, if Peterson were there for them at No. 7.
The slide will continue with every additional Seattle victory.
Beating St. Louis and New Orleans over the last two weeks has not filled draft needs, of course. Seattle still needs to identify its long-term quarterback. With that in mind, I've put together two charts showing quarterbacks drafted around where Seattle could have and currently would select.
The first chart shows every quarterback since 1990 drafted between the fifth and 15th overall choices, including six selected between fifth and seventh. Seattle would have been drafting in this general range if St. Louis had won the NFC West.
Arizona (fifth) and San Francisco (seventh) hold picks in this range, so the chart adds context for their choices as well.
Five of the 11 quarterbacks drafted fifth to 15th since 1990 have earned Pro Bowl honors. The three with plus signs next to their career start totals appear likely to start considerably more games in the future.
As the second chart shows, one of the nine quarterbacks drafted 20th through 30th since 1990 has earned Pro Bowl honors. One other, Tim Tebow, remains early enough in his career to qualify as a potential candidate for such honors down the road. Again, plus signs highlight totals likely to increase substantially over time.
Aaron Rodgers, the lone Pro Bowl choice from this group so far, was an exception as the 24th player chosen in the 2005 draft.
NFL teams have drafted 22 quarterbacks among the top four choices since 1990. I'll list them below by overall draft spot.
First overall: Sam Bradford, Matthew Stafford, JaMarcus Russell, Alex Smith, Eli Manning, Carson Palmer, David Carr, Michael Vick, Tim Couch, Peyton Manning, Drew Bledsoe, Jeff George.
Second overall: Donovan McNabb, Ryan Leaf, Rick Mirer.
Third overall: Matt Ryan, Vince Young, Joey Harrington, Akili Smith, Steve McNair, Heath Shuler.
Fourth overall: Philip Rivers.
John P. Lopez of SI.com doesn't mention Leinart during the piece Urban cites. Lopez: "Since 1998, these are some of the NFL quarterbacks who aced all three parts of the Rule of 26-27-60: Peyton Manning, Phillip Rivers, Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, Matt Schaub, Kyle Orton, Kevin Kolb, Matt Ryan, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matt Stafford. Meanwhile, among the once highly-touted prospects who failed at least one part of the formula: Ryan Leaf, Joey Harrington, Michael Vick, Akili Smith, Tim Couch, Daunte Culpepper, David Carr, Vince Young and JaMarcus Russell."
The Arizona Republic says Cardinals seventh-round choice Jim Dray has signed his rookie contract. Dray became the first 2010 Cardinals draft choice to sign a contract.
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says fans can begin registering to attend training camp Monday. Farnsworth: "Camp kicks off July 31, and both practices that Saturday will be open – starting at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. There will be 13 other practices open to the public at Virginia Mason Athletic Center and those dates will be announced later."
Also from Farnsworth: Running backs coach Sherman Smith is back with the team that gave him his NFL start. Smith: "Playing pro football, that never was an aspiration of mine. When I went to Miami of Ohio after I graduated from high school, my desire was to be a high school coach and a teacher. That was it. That’s all I knew I wanted to do. That was the plan all along. There was no hesitation when my career was over. I knew what I was going to do."
Jay Drew of the Salt Lake Tribune says the Seahawks were one of the NFL teams to speak with BYU running back Harvey Unga after his workout Thursday. Drew: "Unga's agent, Eric Metz said 20 teams were in attendance and another six teams called in the morning and requested tape from the drills. I noticed these teams there, based on logos on their shirts, caps, etc: Packers, Chiefs, Rams, Colts, Steelers, Eagles, Lions, Bears, Falcons, Saints, Seahawks, Patriots, Buccaneers, Giants, Bengals, Browns and Dolphins. Obviously, I missed a few. I do know that the Panthers, Titans, 49ers, Vikings and Texans were not there, based on what the Packers scout told me."
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says Scott McKillop and Navorro Bowman will compete for the No. 2 job behind inside linebacker Takeo Spikes. They should get plenty of practice reps because Spikes, 33, doesn't practice all the time. Veteran Matt Wilhelm provides a safe alternative to his younger competitors. Maiocco: "Bowman is a player who caught the 49ers' eyes with his instinctive style of play. But he learned in the 49ers' offseason program that he first had to learn his role -- and all the adjustments off every play -- before he would be allowed to put those instincts to work. Personnel chief Trent Baalke said Bowman and McKillop made a lot of plays in college. Both are physical players, but Bowman runs better."
Gil Brandt of NFL.com says the 49ers were one of four teams to send their personnel director to watch Illinois defensive tackle Joshua Brent-Price work out in preparation for the supplemental draft July 15. Brandt: "Despite the humid conditions, Price-Brent had what was described as a very good work out. Price-Brent measured in at 6-foot-1 3/4 and 321 pounds. He ran the 40-yard dash twice, each time clocking in at 5.38 seconds. He did 22 reps on the bench press to go with a 29-inch vertical jump. He had an 8-foot, 10-inch broad jump, a 7.71-second three-cone drill and a 4.74-second short shuttle."
Steve Wyche of NFL.com says Sam Bradford expects to sign with the Rams by training camp. This note was from late June, but I wanted to pass it along as a way to address the subject of rookie contracts. The vast majority of rookies sign in time for training camp, with all but a few others missing only limited practice time. The Rams and Bradford both have incentive to get a deal done in time for camp. Bradford doesn't want to miss valuable practice time. The Rams want him on the field. Both sides would be making a mistake if Bradford were to miss any significant camp time. I would expect a deal to get done on time.
Turf Show Times' VanRam outlined key factors he thinks will be important in determining the best time for Bradford to make his regular-season starting debut with the Rams. "Plenty of things have to be in place before that happens," he concluded. "It's unlikely those things will be a go by Week 1."
ESPN's Chris Mortensen reminded us that the Rams' Steve Spagnuolo and Pat Shurmur were with the Eagles in 1999 when Philadelphia eased first-round quarterback Donovan McNabb into the lineup after going with Doug Pederson to open the regular season.
"Then again," Mortensen tweeted, "if the Rams think Bradford is ready & Steven Jackson is ready to play, the O-line is very solid ... and Sam could start."
Tramel noted that the Rams should start Bradford even though they lack the "big-time running games and solid defenses" that helped Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez start right away as rookies. I would take exception to half of the premise. The Rams do have a big-time running game as long as Steven Jackson is part of the equation. Their offensive line was pretty good and improving until injuries and Richie Incognito's demise wiped out the Rams' depth in the second half of the season.
"Is there a set of stats to put together to show the relativity in the last five or 10 years as to QBs drafted in the top 10 slots, when they began to start, and their first- and/or second-year performance," Bcook122 asked in the comments section of my earlier item. "There is no question that it's not done in a vacuum and the quality of the offense when the guy takes over has a lot to do with the success ratio, but I'm a little concerned about all this talk of Bradford being 'pro-ready' and then holding a too high expectation. Clearly, if he is the best of the bunch, he is going to be starting, and if he shines like Sanchez did, then yahoo, but that's not always the case."
This is where I think it's important to make distinctions between Bradford's situation and other situations encountered by early quarterbacks.
The Jets traded up from the 17th spot into the fifth spot to draft Sanchez. That meant Sanchez walked into a pretty good situation. There's no use in comparing that situation to situations encountered by quarterbacks drafted first overall by teams that did not acquire the top pick. Bradford has joined the worst team in the league, by definition. Sanchez joined one of the better teams.
Quarterbacks Matthew Stafford, JaMarcus Russell, Alex Smith, Carson Palmer, David Carr, Tim Couch and Peyton Manning were No. 1 overall choices drafted by teams that did not acquire the top choice. Eli Manning and Michael Vick were also No. 1 overall quarterbacks during that time, but both landed with teams that did not finish the previous season with the NFL's worst record.
Stafford, Carr and Manning started in Week 1 as rookies. Stafford lasted four games before an injury sidelined him. Carr absorbed 76 sacks in 16 rookie starts. Manning tossed 26 touchdown passes with 28 interceptions while starting 16 games as a rookie.
Russell did not play until Week 13 of his rookie year. He did not start until Week 17. Palmer did not play at all as a rookie. Couch became the Browns' starter in Week 2. Smith made his first NFL start for the 49ers in Week 5.
The more I look at recent history, the less it appears to matter exactly when quarterbacks drafted first overall make their starting debuts. Quarterbacks ultimately succeed or fail based on how they approach the game, their mental toughness, physical abilities and how well their teams assemble coaching staffs and rosters around them.
That said, if you're a Rams fan, how excited are you to see Bradford make his NFL debut in Week 1 against an Arizona defense featuring Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell, Joey Porter and Adrian Wilson? Think those guys would like to welcome Bradford to the league with a few crushing hits?
The 49ers' top two quarterbacks, Alex Smith and David Carr, made the list, even though Smith went .500 as a starter last season.
Why do some highly drafted quarterbacks fail while others succeed? ESPN's Chris Sprow analyzed the subject with an eye toward quarterbacks who enjoyed success after spending one or more seasons as a backup.
The piece, alluded to earlier Wednesday by Greg Johns, presented evidence suggesting Seattle's Charlie Whitehurst could outperform the Rams' Sam Bradford.
My thought: Quarterbacks forced into lineups right away generally have worse supporting casts than quarterbacks afforded time to develop in the shadows. The former group would often be very high draft choices. Their teams were horrible the year before, which is why those teams drafted a quarterback early. Their teams threw them out there right away and the supporting cast wasn't good enough. Teammates lost confidence in the player.
So much of a quarterback's success depends on what's happening around him. Jay Cutler was legitimately an up-and-coming quarterback when he played for Mike Shanahan. The dynamics changed when the Broncos fired Shanahan, and Cutler probably will not recover until the dynamics are right again.
Mike Sando: Warner led the Cardinals to the Super Bowl and gave his team the lead in the final minutes. If the 49ers thought McNabb could take them to that level, they should acquire him right now. We already know McNabb can be a productive, Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback. I also think a team could win a championship with him. Too much is made of the fact that McNabb lost a Super Bowl and hasn't gotten the Eagles back to one since. Five Super Bowls have passed since Tom Brady won one and no one is saying the Patriots need a new quarterback. They're tough to win!
The evidence on Smith and Carr suggests neither will become productive perennially. I do think the 49ers have enough invested in Smith to have an interest in seeing him through this season. They've strived for continuity for so long. Another quarterback change would entail starting over once again.
The question is really whether McNabb could take the 49ers to a level they likely wouldn't reach with Smith or Carr. My money would be on McNabb. But if I had invested the first overall choice in Smith and felt as though he might be on the verge of finally breaking through, I wouldn't replace him lightly.
Jason from Rochester, N.Y., writes: Hey Mike, even though Seattle signed Charlie Whitehurst, we know that general manager John Schneider likes to draft a QB every year. Any chance they use a late-rounder on local boy, Matt Nichols? Also, aren't they showing their hand a bit on where they will be drafting by purging both Cory Redding and Darryl Tapp? Edge pass rush was their most obvious need even with those two on the roster. With Julius Peppers signed, the pickings are slim in the free-agent market. Do you think No. 14 is going to be used for a defensive end?
Mike Sando: I agree that the Seahawks have subtracted somewhat unnecessarily as if determining what they don't want before having adequate reinforcements on board. This is what teams tend to do when new regimes take over. It's not just a Seattle thing. It also might tell us where the previous regime overvalued certain players. And then when you factor in changes made for scheme reasons, it's another reminder that NFL franchise makeovers come at a high price.
Nichols does project as a late-round prospect, but there's nothing to say the Seahawks would value him over another late-rounder at the position. I do think Seattle will probably draft a quarterback for the No. 3 role. That is also pretty typical. It makes sense because if you hit on a player at that position, the payoff can be great, even if he never starts for you.
I could see the Seahawks drafting a pass-rusher at No. 6 or No. 14. It's an area the team needs to address and with two picks that early, this is the chance.
Phillip from Olympia, Wash., writes: What's going on with the Seahawks' offensive line? I thought the new regime was going to transform the group. Any news on Rob Sims since the Jim Mora tirade and the Chicago trade rumer?
Mike Sando: I've been expecting Seattle to sign a Ben Hamilton or Chester Pitts type. That could still happen. Then I think we'll see the team draft for the position as well. Sims could return, but only if the Seahawks cannot get value for him. A trade probably remains the most likely scenario.
Peyson from Shelley, Idaho writes: Why don't the Seahawks get Brandon Marshall for their 14th pick? I mean, it is like giving back their pick to the Broncos and that would solidify the wide receiver position for us for the next couple years. Then we could use the sixth pick on an offensive linemen and use our second on a defensive linemen. This year is a deep year for big running backs, so we could pick one up in the fourth round. That's the way I look at it. What do you think?
Mike Sando: Seattle would have to risk the sixth pick in signing Marshall to an offer sheet. If you're talking about a trade, why pay the 14th overall choice for Marshall now if the price drops later? I don't see a long line of teams itching for a shot to acquire Marshall. Seattle would be better off trying to use the sixth and 14th picks for starters, using a later pick for Marshall, if possible.
Michael from Phoenix writes: Mike, with the 49ers looking for help in the return game and employing a 'best player available' strategy in the draft, how can they pass up a talent like Dez Bryant? I know receiver is not a pressing need, but with Bryant's stock falling because of off-field issues, he could be a steal that they can't afford to pass up. He would provide immediate help in the return game and most scouts have him rated higher than Michael Crabtree. The more talent assembled around Alex Smith can only help his development. Although those targets would look even better with McNabb -- I'm crossing my fingers -- they can still draft a tackle with the other first-round pick and sign free agent Chester Pitts to shore up the offensive line. What do you think?
Mike Sando: The 49ers did benefit from some of the red flags surrounding Crabtree a year ago. I also agree with the thinking that a team should arm its quarterback with more and more weapons. The Colts have done an excellent job drafting playmakers to help Peyton Manning.
The question is really whether targeting for value at No. 13 would prevent the 49ers from matching value to need at No. 17, the assumption being that San Francisco needs to help its offensive line with one of those first two selections. If the 49ers can address the line with one of those choices, I do think they can feel better about adding more of a luxury item with the other first-round choice.
Mike from Costa Mesa, Calif., writes: Sando! What do you think the chances are that Arizona will select a QB with one of its two third-round picks or in later rounds? I for one am intrigued by John Skelton of Fordham and would love to see him go to the Cards. I'm pretty sure that Skelton would be there for the third round, but is there a chance that he could still be on the board in the fifth or sixth rounds?
Mike Sando: Yeah, there's a chance he could be there after the third round. He's a big guy, 6-foot-5 and 240-plus pounds. Any player taken that late is going to come with some question marks. Skelton didn't face the best competition at Fordham. He played from the shotgun quite a bit, so there would be some projecting for the offense the Cardinals want to run. Sooner or later, though, the Cardinals need to draft a developmental quarterback.
Whisenhunt's teams have drafted six quarterbacks over the years: Tim Couch, Ben Roethlisberger, Chad Pennington, Brian St. Pierre, Omar Jacobs and Wally Richardson. The Cardinals haven't drafted one since Whisenhunt got there. It's probably time.
Frank from Los Angeles wants to know whether the Rams might avoid drafting Sam Bradford over fears that they wouldn't be able to sign him before the draft.
Mike Sando: The Rams can't let that stop them from drafting a franchise quarterback if they indeed think Bradford can be that type of player. Whether Bradford is signed in April or July shouldn't matter a great deal at this stage of the evaluation process.
Take the best player, particularly if he is a quarterback, and worry about the details later.
In searching for a story that would set the timeline on Pederson, I ran across this item on a Rams community board also making the Feeley-Pederson comparison. It's a logical comparison.
I was covering the Seahawks in 1999 when then-coach Mike Holmgren showed interest in Pederson. Holmgren had coached Pederson in Green Bay, as had Eagles coach Andy Reid. The Seahawks lost Pederson to the Eagles, but the deal worked out OK for Seattle in the long run; Green Bay filled Pederson's spot on its roster by signing Matt Hasselbeck, a free agent who had been on the Packers' practice squad in 1998. The Packers developed Hasselbeck for a few years before Holmgren brought him to Seattle.
Back to the original story. Feeley knows the Rams' offense from his days with the Eagles. Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur was his position coach in Philadelphia, and Shurmur brought the basic offense to St. Louis. Feeley can serve the same role Pederson served for the Eagles in 1999 if the Rams draft a quarterback in the first round.
The thinking is sound, but none of it matters if a team drafts the wrong quarterback. Pederson played a similar role for the Browns in 2000, serving as a mentor for Tim Couch.
"I see my role as an older quarterback that’s there to help out in any way possible," Feeley said Monday during a conference call with reporters. "Regardless if it's playing or in a backup role, I’m just there to contribute. Where it is, they haven’t really set a defined role as to what I’m doing, which I’m fine with. It’s all about competing and I’m trying to get this thing on the right track."
San Francisco is taking a look at another free-agent backup quarterback, David Carr. Mike Garafolo of the Newark Star-Ledger has the details.
With Alex Smith already on the roster, adding Carr could give the 49ers a draft-day dream team featuring former No. 1 overall picks under center.
Anyone seen Tim Couch?
Seriously, though, I would rather have Shaun Hill backing up Smith than Carr, although Carr obviously has more raw talent.
I think his numbers have been bordering on above average since he has been installed this season. Can you pull up and compare stats on other No. 1 pick QBs, along with their team records and stats from the season before they arrived? I think the stats should show some relativity to the teams' performance and not so much the QB's ability.
Mike Sando: NFL teams have drafted 17 quarterbacks No. 1 overall since 1970. Eleven of the 17 have thrown more touchdown passes than interceptions. Smith, David Carr, Tim Couch, JaMarcus Russell, Matthew Stafford and Jim Plunkett have not or did not.
The way Smith performed as a rookie in 2005 isn't so relevant right now. The way he is performing in 2009 is not relevant compared to how other No. 1 overall draft choices played as rookies or when taking over as starters for the first time. But I think we can make some progress by using age as a key variable.
Smith has completed 60 percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a 78.5 rating in two quarters against Houston and eight subsequent starts. To put Smith's performances in some perspective, I used Pro Football Reference to generate a list showing season stats since 1980 for quarterbacks age 25 or younger with at least 300 attempts (Smith, 25, has attempted 313 passes this season). The list shows 51 seasons featuring higher passer ratings than Smith's current rating for 2009.
The 49ers are 3-5 in the games Smith has started this season. They will probably be 5-5 in games he has started once this season ends. Shaun Hill was 2-0 as a starter in 2007, 5-3 as a starter in 2008 and 3-3 as a starter this season. That works out to 10-6 overall with diminishing returns.
It is possible for a young quarterback drafted in the first round to enjoy immediate success. The Steelers went 6-10 in 2003. They drafted Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. Roethlisberger went 13-0 as a rookie starter that year, then won the Super Bowl in his second season.
Smith looks better now than he has in the past. I would expect the 49ers to continue evaluating him through the offseason and next season. They should know by then whether Smith can take them where they want to go.
Josh from Seattle writes: I would first like to say I am a big fan and read your column daily under NFC West. I have recently read that the Seahawks are looking to hire someone for the president/general manager position. It is speculated that Mike Holmgren was not interested because the position did not give him complete control over certain decisions, mainly who the coach is. If this is true, then can Seattle really hope to entice someone with some real credibility and ability to change the direction of the franchise?
Mike Sando: The Seahawks aren't necessarily looking for someone to come in and make dramatic changes throughout the organization. At least they were not thinking that way when Tim Ruskell resigned as GM a few weeks ago. A disastrous finish to the season could conceivably lead them to reconsider, particularly when it comes to player personnel. Feedback from GM candidates also could shape their thinking.
Until then, though, it appears as though the Seahawks are looking for a strong personnel person to fit into their current structure. That is how CEO Tod Leiweke described the job when announcing Ruskell's resignation.
The concessions Seattle would have made for Holmgren likely would not apply to most other candidates.
Craig from Flagstaff writes: Mike, what has to happen for the Cards to host the first round of the playoffs?
Mike Sando: Consider it done. All division winners play at least one postseason game at home.
Michael writes via Facebook: That is really shocking that the Rams would be ahead in an offensive category over the Cardinals. Surprising statistic there, Sando.
Mike Sando: It's true. The Rams have made more big plays on offense than the Cardinals this season. So have 30 other teams. Unlike the Rams, though, the Cardinals can make important plays in the passing game with some consistency, and they can finish drives. Arizona leads the NFL in red-zone touchdown percentage. They might not be making big plays in terms of yardage, but they are scoring with efficiency when they get close. The Rams rank 31st in that category.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Rudy from Chicago writes: Sando! For each of the 4 divisional teams, which little-known players do you think are poised to have big seasons? We all have ideas as to how the big stars will play, but what about the up-and-comers? Thanks Sando, great blog.
Mike Sando: Thanks. Good question. I'm not sure each of the teams will have a little-known player enjoy the sort of season Steve Breaston put together in 2008. I'll be some of our regular contributors can step up with suggestions. I'll take a stab here.
Does John Greco become a productive starting offensive lineman for the Rams? Not if the team drafts a starting left tackle, as expected. Keenan Burton might be a candidate at receiver. Someone beyond Donnie Avery has to catch the passes. I would exclude Avery from the discussion because he played extensively as a rookie. His numbers could spike by default if the Rams do not find other starting-caliber receivers.
Cornerback Tarell Brown could get a chance in San Francisco. Free safety Dashon Goldson will get a chance. Jason Hill and/or Josh Morgan could take the next step as receivers. And a healthy Brandon Jones could take the next step.
In Seattle, does Will Herring get a shot at linebacker and make the most of it? Does Josh Wilson take the next step at cornerback? Red Bryant could improve if he can avoid injuries. Lawrence Jackson could improve, though he was a first-round pick, so not a lesser-known guy.
In Arizona, defensive end Calais Campbell will get more playing time, as could Kenny Iwebema. Early Doucet could emerge if given a chance at receiver. I'm not sure he'll get that chance given the people ahead of him.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The ESPN.com fan rankings left Seattle at No. 20. A few readers weren't any too pleased, either. The relatively low ranking reflected in part local rules prohibiting tailgating at Qwest Field. But that just wasn't right, apparently.
Larry from Seattle writes: Sando, Sando, Sando! You lost serious credibility by hammering the Seahawks for the tailgate atmosphere. Next time you are at a game, go 2 blocks due west of the stadium (to just barely east of the viaduct and behind the set of warehouses that you will run into) and check out the tailgate party.
Other stadiums likely still have us beat, but it is pretty damn good. Just because there is no tailgating in the stadium parking lot does not mean that there is no tailgating. If you are going to evaluate the tailgate experience, I think you have an obligation to actually examine the issue a little more than peering out into the parking lot of Qwest and concluding that there is none.
If interested, shoot me an email and you can stop by my tailgate at your next game and see the experience firsthand. Despite my rant and your obviously limited knowledge of tailgating in Seattle, your blog is still the best thing going. Keep it up!
Mike Sando: You've got a deal, Larry. I would be honored to drop by your tailgate party one of these times. The only thing I ask is that you have something ready on the grill. And it better be good. The last thing you need is another negative review on ESPN.com.
John from California writes: Mike, What are your thoughts on the Seahawks opening game against the Bills? Hopefully our Defense will be awake and and ready to play.
Mike Sando: The Seahawks should win that game. I think they will win that game. But this team needs to prove itself in early games in the Eastern time zone.
Greg from Phoenix writes: Mike, I'm wondering what Alex Smith's chances are of starting over with another team and fulfilling his unrealized potential. It seems like there are so many high draft picks get only one shot and, despite the experience they get in those first years, in most cases if they don't succeed then they are labeled "busts" and don't get another. Why is this so and what are Smith's prospects for following this same path?
Mike Sando: I think a fresh start elsewhere is exactly what Alex Smith needs. I would think he'll enjoy success somewhere down the road. He's only 24 years old. A few players have enjoyed success after stumbling early. Vinny Testaverde comes to mind. Trent Dilfer, to a degree, and Kerry Collins. Tommy Maddox several years aback, and Jim Plunkett years ago.
But some quarterbacks never recover from a poor start. David Carr, Joey Harrington, Patrick Ramsey, Tim Couch, Akili Smith, Cade McNown, Ryan Leaf, Jim Druckenmiller, Heath Shuler, Rick Mirer, David Klingler, Dan McGwire, Todd Marinovich, Andre Ware, Kelly Stouffer.
At a certain point we might conclude that these players weren't as good as advertised. A quarterback must possess so many traits to succeed. Some of these players possessed certain traits that caught scouts' eyes, but they lacked the total package or couldn't overcome severe deficiencies in other areas.