I want to tell you a story about a quarterback. He was one of the worst quarterbacks, not only in the league, but also arguably the worst in history during his first season (nine starts in 2005). He ended that first season with an injury, but not before he threw 11 interceptions and one touchdown. In 2006, this quarterback took every snap from center, improving his stats to 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. In 2007, his completion rating dropped below 50 percent and he was eventually placed on the IR due to an injury (2 touchdowns, 4 interceptions). He spent all of 2008 on the IR. In 2009, he competed against Shaun Hill for the starting quarterback spot. In 2010, he was booed in his own stadium as the crowd cheered for his backup, David Carr. Through both of the 2009 and 2010 seasons combined, he threw 32 touchdowns, one touchdown short of the 33 that Peyton Manning threw in 2009. This quarterback was taken 24 picks before Aaron Rogers. Any guesses?
Your answer: Alex Smith.
My question: How the hell did he survive?
The truth is that he pulled it together just in time. While JaMarcus Russell, Vince Young, Matt Leinert (all picked in the top 10), had to struggle to stay on teams, Alex Smith managed to come out as not just a starter, but as one of best game managers in football. Yes, he is a system quarterback, and yes, John Harbaugh is his coach (and no, he’s not better than Peyton, who I jinxed this week.) But his story is a football miracle, and is one that will likely not be repeated.
In the new era of draft expectations, if you are picked first overall, you start day one. If you are picked in the first round, you are starting season one. Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden, each not fully ready for the NFL game, are starting for the Dolphins and Browns, respectively (you poor Browns fans, I’m so sorry). Look further at Russell Wilson (3rd round pick) and John Skelton (6th round pick), who both started or are training in their first season. If you are drafted at all, you will probably get a chance to throw a pass in an NFL game, year one.
If you fail as a top 10 pick, you will end up like JaMarcus Russell and Yince Young, out of work. If you fail and you are lucky, then you will end up like Matt Leinert, lucky to back up Carson Palmer on the Raiders.
There is no working comparison to what Alex Smith has done in current-day football, because American media and fans do not have the patience to wait for someone or something to pan out (see: Mark Sanchez, picked 5th overall, and Tim Tebow, 25th overall, this offseason).
Right now, Smith is somehow captaining the best team in football, a team that has already punished two NFL powerhouses in Green Bay and Detroit.
The final question looms: Can this underdog really win a Super Bowl?
My answer: Not if he’s playing Peyton Manning and the Broncos.