What history expects from Alex Smith

June, 14, 2011
6/14/11
11:46
AM ET
Alex Smith's candidacy as the San Francisco 49ers' starting quarterback heading into 2011 sent me searching for some context.

The charts show some initial findings.

Smith
The first one shows quarterbacks since 1970 who met the following criteria, as provided by Pro Football Reference:
  • First-round draft choice;
  • Has thrown between 40 and 60 touchdown passes;
  • Career passer rating was no higher than 85.0;
  • Has played in no more than six seasons.

Smith's new coach, Jim Harbaugh, is one of the players on the list. Some of the players enjoyed moderately successful careers. Vince Young, Greg Landry, Harbaugh, Dan Pastorini and Archie Manning were named to at least one Pro Bowl.


The second chart eliminates Smith's statistically horrible rookie season, when he had one touchdown and 11 interceptions for a very bad team.

It shows statistics for quarterbacks drafted in first rounds since 1970 based on the following criteria, also according to Pro Football Reference:
  • Second through sixth seasons only;
  • Had thrown between 40 and 55 touchdown passes;
  • Had thrown no more than 45 interceptions;
  • Had started at least 40 games during this period.

Harbaugh again makes the list, but I was most struck by similarities between the numbers for Smith and Harbaugh's old teammate, Jim McMahon.

Smith and McMahon could not be less similar in terms of personality, overall approach, supporting cast and on-field results. McMahon went 22-1 as a starter from 1985-87.

The Harbaugh comparison is much more relevant. Both players failed to meet expectations early in their careers despite their diligence. Harbaugh's personality was much more aggressive, however, and that raises a very fair but harsh question: Does Smith have the right makeup to salvage his career in a manner the way Harbaugh did after leaving Chicago?

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