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Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Alex Smith still not fantasy-worthy

By Christopher Harris

The Kansas City Chiefs are at it again, once again dealing for another team's backup quarterback while seeking a solution for their problems under center. Four years ago, it was Matt Cassel, and now it's Alex Smith. According to sources, the Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers agreed to a deal that will send Smith to Kansas City, though the deal won't be official until March 12.

On the one hand, it makes sense that new Chiefs head coach Andy Reid looked at this April's draft and realized that there's no franchise savior at QB. Geno Smith will probably be the first QB off the board, but as I wrote in my combine review, his tape shows inconsistent accuracy. There are times when he looks fully under control, but other times where his throws are all over the place. There's no way Reid could've felt confident with Geno Smith as his Week 1 starter in 2013.

On the other hand, this is a panic move, especially because incredibly the Chiefs paid the No. 34 overall pick in April's draft and a conditional pick in '14 for Smith. Considering they have to pay Smith $8.5 million this season and $7.5 million in '14, this is an astounding price tag. Just Wednesday morning, the Sacramento Bee speculated that a fourth-rounder was the best the 49ers would be able to do, in light of Smith's limited skills and contract.

Jim Harbaugh and Alex Smith
Alex Smith will likely attempt more passes with the change in head coaches, but will it mean more fantasy production?

The larger point is that Smith just isn't very good. I'm not saying he's an awful player, but he's a QB you must manage to within an inch of his life. All the talk jockeys and surface-level analyzers will yap all day about how Smith was No. 3 in QB rating before he was benched last season, that he's thrown 30 TDs and 10 INTs over the past two seasons, that the Niners went 19-5-1 in his final 25 starts. But if you watch tape on Smith, you know he's a hang-on-by-your-fingernails kind of player who needs a stingy defense and a grinding running game to keep him in line. In '12, Smith averaged 6.1 yards at the catch, which was 23rd among all QBs with at least 100 attempts. He was 24th in that stat in '11. Through 2012's first nine games, Smith made 17 attempts that traveled more than 20 yards in the air (he completed eight of them). That was 32nd in the league. Andrew Luck and Joe Flacco had 46 attempts in the same span. I acknowledge that Smith's signature game -- a win over the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round two seasons ago -- was legit. But to this point in his career, that was an infrequent exception, not a rule.

Now, Reid won't ask Smith to take tons of deep shots, especially if Dwayne Bowe leaves town, a probability that seems to have gone up considering Smith's salary and the fact the Chiefs will take a cap hit for releasing Cassel. Reid is a West Coast offense devotee and will bring his screen and checkdown game to Kansas City. Smith is actually an OK fit for this offense, but more because he doesn't excel at other things rather than because of overwhelming accuracy (59.3 percent completion rate for his career, though that number was a dink-and-dunker's 70.2 percent in '12). Given the fact Smith almost certainly won't have a dominant defense in '13 and won't have a stellar road-grading offensive line, even his modest stats from San Francisco don't figure to translate to KC. He's even further off the fantasy radar now.

So, what about Jamaal Charles, the only truly important player in that Chiefs offense? Charles' carries were already likely to go down and his receptions were likely to go up with Reid calling plays. Smith's arrival doesn't change that. Reid is going to use Smith to lead a classic West Coast attack, meaning a whole mess of "taking what the defense gives you." Charles still looks like a first-round fantasy pick to me, and stays at No. 6 among fantasy RBs on my list. I don't expect Kansas City to make anyone forget the '07 New England Patriots anytime soon, but if he stays healthy, Charles should get the ball a ton.

Finally, a quick note about the 49ers, who now have five picks in the first 93 selections of April's draft. Colin Kaepernick was already the unquestioned starter, and is a perplexing fantasy option, one who'll be written about a ton between now and August. He's a dual threat, a read-option runner, and the possessor of a big arm. But Jim Harbaugh's offense stayed mostly conservative even when the physically gifted Kaepernick took over the job, and if we're still going to see Kaepernick with only between 23 and 28 pass attempts each week, his upside might be lower than you think. Yes, his running yardage is a wild card, and he showed his game-changing ability in the playoffs against the Green Bay Packers. But Kaepernick also ran for 31 yards or fewer in five of his seven regular-season starts. He's verging on my top 10 fantasy QBs for the season, but I haven't settled quite yet on where he'll land come summertime. I'd really like to see the Niners add a speed receiver not named Mario Manningham or Randy Moss.