Here is a quick QB comparison. Below are season stats for two NFL quarterbacks:
Pretty similar, right? I thought so.
Yet Kevin Kolb is not one of the QBs above. QB1 is former 49er legend Steve Young’s 1996 season when he went to the Pro Bowl and led the league in passer rating. The 49ers went 12-4 in the 1996 regular season (Young was 9-3 with 4 missed games due to injury). They went deep in the playoffs losing to Green Bay in the NFC championship game. That year there was no other QB in the NFL you would rather have. No one called Steve Young a "game manager" in 1996.
QB2 is Alex Smith in 2011 with his numbers grossed up to reflect 9 games played vs. Young’s 12 games in 1996. (Last week when I first looked at these stats, Smith’s season rating was nearly identical to Young’s at 97.3 a tenth of a point better than Young). Coincidently, this year the Niners seem on track to meet Green Bay in the playoffs just like 1996 – hopefully with a different outcome.
It might not have seemed like it, but like Kolb, Alex Smith (also 27) has been on the rise. His QB rating has risen every year he played, except for the year cut short by injury.
|Notes||7 starts||7 starts,injured||Injured||Thru 9 games|
Based on this, before the 2010 season I thought Alex would move up to be a top 10 QB in 2010, with a rating in the low 90s. I was a bit early. Instead in 2010 we saw a season where Singletary and his talented team imploded and the offensive brain trust didn’t seem to know an X from an O and the defense was on the field forever. Sadly, the Niners apparent strategy of a weekly change at QB and attempting to soften up the opposition by executing a series of excellent punts, failed. This year Alex is back and back on track.
Also worth noting Steve Young was 30 years old before he started regularly for the 49ers. That’s right 30. Alex Smith won’t be 30 for another 3 years.
It is instructive to look at where Steve Young was when he was Alex’s age. Here is a comparison of stats for Steve Young, Alex Smith and Kevin Kolb in professional football to age 27:
|Win% as Starter||33%||46%||29%|
Young’s passing numbers above include his 2 years with the LA Express, if you just include the NFL numbers, the attempts, completions, and yards are about cut in half and the rating is a little worse (71.3). Also Young’s win% includes all LA Express games, no stats available on games started – if you just include the NFL the win% is 28%, very similar to Kolb. One could argue Smith is way ahead of Young at this point. I won’t make that argument, but based on the stats above it is not hard to do. Also notable is how little experience Kolb has by comparison to both Young and Smith.
To all those who lack confidence in Alex, but revere Montana, Young, and even Garcia, maybe it is a bit early too early to write off Alex Smith.
The main point is there is more than one path to becoming a top QB. Some come into the league and perform at a high level quickly (like Tony Romo and Aaron Rogers). Others develop over time.
The other guy Alex reminds me of a little bit is Vinnie Testaverde. He was a high profile college player, a No 1 pick, with great physical skills and a strong arm. However, he was considered a total washout early on in Tampa and played on some truly bad teams. Yet he continued to improve and improve. He ended up with a 21 year NFL career. That is impressive for a ‘washout’ when 6 years is the average career for NFL players that make the opening day roster (its 3.5 years if you count all players). Testaverde put together some impressive years in his mid 30s (e.g. a 101 rating with the Jets in 1998) including a couple of pro bowls (1996 and 1998). Accordingly, I expect Alex to be around for a long long time.
With this perspective, I will be more shocked if Alex Smith doesn’t end up making it to a Pro Bowl than if he does. As for Kevin Kolb, he is young and on the rise he could end up being very good too. Better than Smith? Wait till they are both 30 to find out. Right now Alex is in the lead.
With young QBs, like with Steve Young, patience can pay off.