Alex Smith was selected by the San Francisco 49ers with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 NFL Draft.
He had a great college career at the University of Utah, and high expectations were placed upon him to become a successful NFL quarterback, but his poor performances over his first several years resulted in many NFL and fantasy football analysts to declare him as a bust.
Smith never gave up, however, and he began to resurrect his career over the second half of the 2009 season.
He is now entering the 2010 season as the clear-cut starter for the team, and there is reason for optimism that he may indeed become a quality quarterback in the NFL.
Looking at Smith’s statistics over his first three years, it seemed difficult to believe he could ever become a solid quarterback.
In 32 games he averaged a paltry 146.2 passing yards per game, and threw just 19 touchdowns compared to 31 interceptions. He never seemed in control of the huddle, and his decision-making was truly horrid at times.
When he injured his shoulder during the 2008 training camp in his fourth year, he ended up on injured reserve and missed the entire season.
It was at this point that Smith’s career seemed to be practically dead.
The 2009 season started out just as bad for Smith as he was unable to beat out mediocre quarterback Shaun Hill for the starting position and was relegated to the sidelines as a backup. His chance finally came in week seven when the 49ers pulled the plug on Hill and gave Smith a shot at the starting gig.
Smith took advantage of this opportunity and finished the final 11 games, averaging 214 passing yards per game and tossing 18 touchdowns versus 12 interceptions.
These are not eye-popping numbers, but they were a big improvement from the production we have come to expect from him.
In addition, it was encouraging that he threw at least one touchdown in 10 of his 11 games, while throwing multiple touchdowns in six games.
Best of all, Smith developed a nice chemistry with the athletic tight end Vernon Davis, and also worked well with then-rookie receiver Michael Crabtree, who missed the entire training camp due to a contract holdout.
This season will be the first time in Smith’s NFL career that he will have the same offensive coordinator for consecutive years. Early reports from OTAs are saying that for the first time since joining San Francisco, Smith looks very comfortable commanding the offense in practice, and he is finally becoming a vocal leader.
Head coach Mike Singeltary pointed out last season that an improvement in leadership abilities was the biggest thing he wanted to see from Smith, and it looks like he is finally getting it.
Of course, it is wise not to get overly excited about what happens in June workouts, but it does appear Smith is earning the confidence of his coaches and teammates, and he is also developing confidence in himself.
Plus, Smith now has an entire preseason to develop a rapport with receivers Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan, and continue to build upon the chemistry established with Vernon Davis.
San Francisco also made sure Smith would be protected by drafting two excellent offensive line prospects (tackle Anthony Davis and guard Mike Iupati) in the first round of this year’s NFL draft.
Smith is in a good position and will be given every opportunity to succeed. He should be considered a “sleeper” candidate in fantasy football drafts this fall.
Early mock drafts through the beginning of June have him with an average draft position (ADP) of 207, as the 28th quarterback off the board. He is currently being targeted as a QB3 that can be drafted in the final few rounds of fantasy drafts.
I am not a big fan of projecting partial season stats over a full season, but it does illustrate a point in this case. Smith’s 2009 numbers would project to 3,424 passing yards with 26 touchdowns and 16 interceptions over a 16 game season.
Under most scoring systems, that is borderline QB1 production.
Considering the points made above that he finally has some continuity in an offensive system, several playmakers that he has an entire training camp to develop a rhythm with, and an improved offensive line, it is not a stretch to think that Smith can continue to play at the same level or perhaps even improve upon last season.
The 49ers are a young team, especially at the skill positions, as Smith, Gore, Davis, Crabtree, and Morgan are all in their early-to-mid 20s. If Smith does develop into a starting fantasy quarterback, there will be many years to enjoy fine fantasy production.
In a nutshell, consider him a player that can be drafted very cheaply as a backup, but has the potential to become a low-end fantasy starter.
Now is the time to grab Smith in dynasty and keeper leagues.
If it doesn’t work out, at least it cost very little to take the chance.
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