With rumors circulating that the KC Chiefs are interested in trading for quarterback Alex Smith, it's time to get serious about what Smith might look like in Kansas City. Is he a fit? What are his strengths and weaknesses? Alex Smith gets the BJ Kissel breakdown treatment below.
It's only fair that after I wrote up a post on Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles last week that I do the same for San Francisco 49ers QB Alex Smith this week. I mean, they've both had 'rumors' out there the Kansas City Chiefs could be interested in trading for them so I wanted to know more about the guys that could be under center for the Chiefs next season.
I went back and watched Alex Smith's games against the Buffalo Bills, New York Giants, Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals from last season. I picked those games because they were two of his better games and his two worst games of the season. Smith started eight games in 2012 and had 13 touchdowns to just five interceptions in those games. Four of his five interceptions on the season were against the Giants and Seahawks. which means I saw a good amount of the bad based on his overall season.
With a little help from Clay Wendler we've got some GIFs to illustrate some of these points as well.
Why do the Chiefs need Alex Smith?
If you're looking for a gunslinger then Alex Smith is not your guy. He's methodical, safe, calculating, whatever term you want to use that doesn't come with the negative connotation of 'game manager'. The ball seemed to be where it was supposed to be when it was supposed to be there.
Many Chiefs fans are against the idea of a 'retread' QB and not drafting our own quarterback of the future. I don't believe that bringing in Alex Smith would keep the Chiefs from finding a young QB to groom. It doesn't make sense. The Chiefs need two new QBs and Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn will most likely not be on the team next season. I have long thought that Alex Smith, Nick Foles, Matt Moore, Matt Flynn or Matt Hasselbeck would be on the team next season to pair with a draft pick.
The Chiefs need someone with starting experience that could play right away if needed as one of those two new QB's. Whether that's any of the guys listed above or not. Andy Reid and company are going to want to think of the future while trying to show an immediate upgrade on the offensive side of the ball next season.
Contrary to popular belief trading for Alex Smith doesn't mean the Chiefs won't draft Geno Smith. But if the Chiefs don't draft Geno Smith then it's not because we traded for Alex Smith. That's the beauty of the No. 1 pick. If they don't take Geno Smith then he wasn't their guy. Plain and simple.
I just want to see an emphasis put on upgrading the position. However they determine that best. Isn't that what we've ultimately been wanting all of this time? Not just trying to sell us that Brady Quinn was actual 'competition' for the starting spot. We knew that was rubbish. I can hear you all now yelling 'retread, Retread, RETREAD!', and that may be true, but it doesn't mean they have to like Geno Smith or any QB in this draft. It's naive to think that Andy Reid and John Dorsey aren't aware of the importance of the quarterback position. Putting all of your cards on whether Reid and Dorsey know what they're doing because of their opinion on ONE player is ridiculous in my opinion ... and I'm a Geno fan.
Strengths: Accurate, does the little things well
Simply put. Alex Smith knows what he's doing on a football field. The nuances that quarterbacks go through that go unnoticed to most fans but make all the difference in positive plays and negative plays are things he does well.
I would say that he's an accurate passer in that he's always throwing the ball to the right guy at the right time. I think that bores most fans because they want to see the big throws down the field. That's not Smith. But you also won't be pulling your hair out because he missed a wide-open receiver or didn't properly go through his progressions. He does have a tendency to sail passes a bit that make it hard for receivers, especially backs out of the backfield, to turn up-field after catching the ball. He's not missing on these passes but you'd like to see a little bit better on some of those throws.
For anyone saying that Alex Smith is Matt Cassel you're not paying any attention to pocket presence, which is one of the top characteristics you look for in a QB, among other things. Alex Smith is calm in the pocket, even in the face of a blitz. It's one of the things that jumped out most to me about Smith on tape was how well he moved his feet within the pocket. Whether it's going through progressions or avoiding pressure he shows a good ability to always have his feet right.
In this clip against the Buffalo Bills you'll see a good example of how Smith moves his feet to set himself up for an accurate pass touchdown pass. Accurate passes have more to do with your feet than they do with your arm.
Smith slides to the left when Bills DL Kyle Williams gets past the OL on the stunt. Smith quickly resets his feet and delivers an accurate pass over the underneath CB and away from the safety for a touchdown.
Alex Smith is very good at play-action. It helps to have the offensive line and running game the 49ers have with Frank Gore and company but either way he's very good selling the run.
He's athletic enough to maneuver around the pocket and run a little bit if he is forced out of the pocket. He's far from any kind of running quarterback but he's more athletic than what we've seen in Kansas City over the past four years.
Smith does throw accurate passes seen as 'darts' within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage. These are accurate and on time. Whether it's a hook route to Randy Moss sitting in a zone or a post to Vernon Davis these passes have enough on them to fit through windows.
Another one of those nuance plays that Smith does well that most people won't notice is how he uses his shoulders to manipulate defenders. The GIF below shows a good example of Smith doing this against the New York Giants.
Smith moves the Giants LB with his initial read and his eyes and then the shoulder-fake creates more space to help complete that pass. Or at least try and give his receiver more space to make a move after the catch. It's a small example of doing the 'little things' to help make a positive play. Maybe this pass would have been completed without it but you don't see all QBs doing these types of movements. It's a nuance he possesses that displays an overall ability to play the position at a high level.
Alex Smith's weaknesses: big plays down the field
Smith's weaknesses start and end with his arm strength and the ability, or lack thereof, to push the ball down-field. With this said about his arm strength there weren't many times I saw a play that he could have made with better arm strength. He just didn't attempt many passes like that. The GIF below shows a completed pass but it's your quintessential 'NFL throw' with below-average arm strength.
You can see that he gets his feet right on this 'far-hash to outside the numbers throw'. Which is something you will hardly ever not see him do, but you'll also see that while he gets about everything behind the throw that he can it barely gets there.
Smith has to be perfect with his feet, timing, rhythm and reads in order to make these kinds of passes down the field. He does a good job of making up for the fact that he doesn't have a great arm by being good at all of these other things. But it still ultimately limits your offense from an explosive standpoint.
Smith is not great at throwing on the run and that's saying it nicely. He needs to stop and get his feet set if he's going to deliver an accurate pass. It's not that he's not athletic and it's not that he can't maneuver around the pocket, set his feet and deliver an accurate pass, it's that he cannot throw the ball on the run any more than a simple dump off to a running back. It's the opposite of what I saw with Nick Foles in the last breakdown. He was actually very good and accurate throwing on the run across the middle and even outside the numbers.
One of the bad interceptions I saw from Smith in these games was against the New York Giants and Prince Amukamara. The 49ers went play-action and snuck Frank Gore into the left flat. Randy Moss was split-out left and ran a deep post. Delanie Walker originally went in motion and settled left, then ran the wheel route up the left sideline. The Giants were in cover 3 and Amukamara had deep 1/3 responsibility on the play side of the field.
Either Alex Smith thought Amukamara would settle on the wheel before it broke up-field or Randy Moss didn't run his route wide enough to the sidelines to suck Amukamara into the middle of the field when he broke in for the post. In any case it was an easy interception for the Giants and looked like a bad misread for Smith as Amukamara was sitting right there on the wheel route and didn't let Walker get behind him at any point.
Should the Chiefs do it?
When it comes to Alex Smith I'll say my feelings on the idea of trading for him are completely dependent on the compensation needed to get him. If you ask a 49ers fan they think it's a second rounder and if you ask Chiefs fans they hope it's a fifth.
He's the best semi-available option for the Chiefs, a QB who will help you win the most games next season. A mid-late round pick as compensation for Smith doesn't keep the Chiefs from using another higher pick on a quarterback of the future. It's the draft pick that I'm most concerned with and not necessarily which vet they bring in out of that group I listed above.
Alex Smith simply knows how to play the quarterback position and does all of the little things well that you'd ask of him. He's not the most physically gifted quarterback in the NFL but over the past two seasons he's completed 64 percent of his passes with 30 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions. Numbers don't always give you the whole story but that's good. He's 19-5-1 under Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco.
If you're willing to say that Alex Smith is similar to Matt Cassel because of their career numbers are you willing to say that Geno Smith and Colt McCoy are similar players as well? Either you use numbers or you don't. Geno Smith is better than Colt McCoy and Alex Smith is better than Matt Cassel. Watching them actually play the game shows you both of those things.
The GIF below shows his ability to make a play down the field without having to display superior physical skills. He recognizes one-on-one coverage on the play-action play down the field. Once he notices the cornerback has his back turned and isn't watching the ball it's a simple back-shoulder, stop route. This leads to an easy touchdown.
I wouldn't mind it one bit if the Chiefs traded for Alex Smith because you'd know they'd still be looking at drafting someone. It's the development of that player that really interests me. That's not to throw away next season or anything that would happen with Alex Smith at QB because he has shown capable of winning games at the NFL level. But he's not a long-term answer.
Even if he signs some kind of an extension if traded which would make sense. It'd be interesting to look at what that would do to the Chiefs cap situation next season and how that contract is structured. Cutting Cassel would count as $3.95 million against the cap.
Smith could come in and win games for the Chiefs next season and trading for him wouldn't have any affect on who the Chiefs could draft in April.
The Chiefs were getting two new QBs all along.