Former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski is conducting an ongoing segment in which he ranks his top 30. On Monday, "Jaws" named San Francisco 49ers Alex Smith his 16th best quarterback in the league. This ranking officially made Smith the top quarterback for NFC West passers (Sam Bradford - 20th, Kevin Kolb - 25th and Matt Flynn - 27th), according to Jaworski.
To allow for some scale, Tamp Bay Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman was No. 17 on Jaws' list. But his analysis of Freeman was decidedly negative for the most part, as the Bucs quarterback had a rough season in 2011, regressing from his 2010 performance. Even though they are close in ranking, Jaws' analysis of Smith seemed infinitely better.
Follow me after the jump for Jaws' breakdown and a response from ESPN's Herm Edwards and Mark Schlereth.
Some things that Jaws noted in his breakdown:
Alex Smith had the fewest pass attempts of any starter who played 16 games in 2011, but also had the lowest interception percentage in the league regardless. Jaworski went on to credit Jim Harbaugh for understanding "Smith's strengths and limitations."
He also mentioned that the majority of Smith's 20-plus yard completions came on first down, particularly out of their base personnel. He applauded Smith for anticipating coverage's in 2011, citing several examples where the 49ers quarterback cut it loose while the play was still developing.
Jaworski identified the wheel route as one of the throws that is a strength of Smith's. During his video analysis of the route, Jaws pointed to the "excellent touch" and "consistent accuracy" to which Smith throws that pattern. I found this to be a solid finding by Jaworski, as 49ers fans know well about this route's presence in the playbook.
The final most interesting thing Jaws illustrated about the 49ers quarterback was how he performed in the post-season. He cited how Smith read the blitz in the playoffs, and "pulled the trigger on tight-window throws."
Overall, Jaworski thought Smith played at a "very high level in 2011" and expects the 49ers QB to be even better in '12.
Herm Edwards and Mark Schlereth Respond
Both Edwards and Schlereth began their follow-up by making mention of Jim Harbaugh and everything he's done already. They emphasized that with him at the nucleus, this team is capable of going far. They both also seemed confident in the Randy Moss signing.
They both spoke about Moss as if he were back again; sure that he will provide that vertical threat that the 49ers have been missing. Edwards then alluded to two stat-based things regarding the 49ers: they need to improve on third down (29%) and Alex Smith needs to throw more than 17 touchdowns.
The highlight of their conversation was when Schlereth mentioned that Alex Smith has confidence and the team as a whole now has confidence, which is a huge intangible favoring the 49ers. San Francisco now plays to win, instead of just trying not to lose. And again, personnel-wise, they have the ability to do things in 2012 that weren't possible last season.
Edwards and Schlereth made note that the 49ers are now in a position to create situations to open up the middle of the field, taking advantage of safeties. This supports my feeling that the 49ers offensive staff will use Vernon Davis and Randy Moss to manipulate coverages and generate more scoring opportunities.
They concluded by mentioning that between the extra weapons and all things considered, the 49ers should continue to improve, having continuity and balance on offense.
49ers Regular Season Predictions
Herm: 10 wins
Mark: 11 wins
For more, check out ESPN.com's Mike Sando, who covered Jaworski's segment on Alex Smith.
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