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Life after 30: Will Chiefs' Alex Smith get better as he gets older?

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Kansas City Chiefs QB Alex Smith seems like he's been in the NFL for a long time, and he has. But he's only 31 years old entering the 2015 season. He seems older than he is because began playing in the NFL at the young age of 21. We all know about the polarity that surrounds Alex Smith.  Whether you love or hate Smith, there is a general consensus that he needs to step his game up to take the Chiefs to the next level.

Is it rational to believe that Smith will change? Or will Smith remain the same player he has been since the end of his career in San Francisco?

Sometimes history can shed light on what may happen in the future. Let's take a look at starting quarterbacks who played in the NFL after 1990 and see if we can't come to any conclusions on whether or not Alex Smith may change as he gets older.

It's rational to believe Smith will improve in his 30s.

Since Alex Smith is 31 the goal is to find quarterbacks who were playing and starting into their 30s. Quarterbacks who were constantly injured or were perennial backups were not taken into consideration. Statistics were viewed from Pro Football Reference to see which quarterbacks improved, got worse, or stayed about the same in their 30s compared to their younger years.

The quarterbacks who did improve generally statistically peaked between two ages. For instance, Trent Green peaked between the ages of 31 and 34. Perhaps if we can find trends of quarterbacks peaking or declining in their 30s then maybe we can see if it's fair to believe Smith can reach another level of play at this age. Below is the table of the quarterbacks that played into their 30s and saw playing time in the NFL after 1990.

Seeing a lot of these names really brought back some memories didn't it? A lot of the players in this list that declined did so because of injury. Several others declined because old age caught up to them. The quarterbacks who improved typically had a mediocre start to their careers and then hit a period of peak performance in their 30s. Several of the quarterbacks that remained the same through their 30s were usually pretty good to begin with (see Brady and Favre).

Now that we have seen the names let's visualize the numbers.

  • 40 percent of them got better and peaked
  • 37.1 percent of them have remained the same
  • 22.9 percent have declined

Given from what has happened in the past, the smart money would be on Alex Smith getting better and peaking in the near future. Even if Smith doesn't peak, history still shows he is more likely to remain the same than he is to decline. The problem with Smith remaining the same is that, as some believe, Smith cannot take the Chiefs all the way to a Super Bowl without improving his game.

Perhaps the reason for this high-ish history of success is that part of the battle of being a quarterback in the NFL is surviving over the long haul. Quarterbacks who have lasted in the NFL long enough to make it to their 30s have to have a fair amount of skill, thus giving them a higher chance of success. The Chiefs will need this to make it further in the playoffs. My conclusion is that it is rational to believe Smith can and will improve in his 30s.

But wait! There's more! Far, far away, in a world where objective facts, stats, and history are gone from this post, there exists a subjective opinion that is about to be laid upon thine eyes. One of the quarterbacks in this list bares a lot of similarities to Alex Smith. That quarterback is Rich Gannon. Both Rich Gannon and Alex Smith are / were known for risk averse play with low interception totals. Both Alex Smith and Rich Gannon were / are capable of running the ball and making plays with their legs. Both Alex Smith and Rich Gannon were thought to be very near finished in the NFL at one point in their careers. Instead, Alex Smith was rejuvenated by his new head coach Jim Harbaugh. Rich Gannon's career was rejuvenated by a late season stint in Kansas City that provided the Chiefs a first round bye in 1997. In both cases, the team decided to move on from them in their post-rejuvenation seasons (Smith in 2013 with the 49ers, Gannon in 1997 with the Chiefs). The book ended with Rich Gannon making it to the Super Bowl with Oakland and losing. Who knows where the book will end with Smith. If karma exists then maybe Smith can be atonement for the Chiefs lack of sight with Gannon .... but that's in a world far, far away.