Disasters for $49.5 million, Alex

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Oct 12, 2005



By Cold, Hard Football Facts senior writer John Dudley
 
Answer: He has posted the worst performance of any NFL quarterback this season.
 
Question: Who is Alex Smith?
 
The game is professional football, and it looks much different in person than what you see on TV. If you are fortunate enough to make it to the show, you better be ready to play. Otherwise, you could find yourself in serious jeopardy.
 
Welcome to "Youth Has Consequences." As always, the Cold, Hard Football Facts serve as your all-knowing gridiron quizmaster...and we can be just as smug as Alex Trebek. You see, it's easy to look like a genius when you have all of the information right in front of you.
 
Smith, the first overall selection in the 2005 NFL draft, made his eagerly awaited starting debut for the 49ers on Sunday. Facing an undefeated Colts team – and a smothering defense that has been dominating every opponent – he only contributed to Indy's gaudy numbers. In a 28-3 defeat, Smith threw four interceptions, lost a fumble and was sacked five times.  
 
Rookies are expected to struggle, but Smith was particularly abysmal. He completed just nine of 23 passes for a measly 74 yards. He did throw his first touchdown pass – but it was to Cato June of the Colts. The outside linebacker returned a second-quarter interception 24 yards for a score. June later completed the daily double by registering another pick, the fourth and final one thrown by San Francisco's confused QB. Smith finished with a microscopic passer rating of 8.5.
 
Now, on a scale of 1-10, an 8.5 would be an outstanding score. Smith would almost certainly be advancing to the next round of our gridiron game show. His performance might even have put him in contention to win the entire competition.
 
However, with a perfect passer rating being 158.3, Smith's pitiful 8.5 doesn't stack up very well against the other contestants. He would be booed mercilessly – and possibly pelted with produce. And then he would get the gong, just as quickly as Jaye P. Morgan could grab the mallet.
 
It's premature to pass judgment on the fledgling quarterback, but the 49ers can be forgiven if they are already wondering what could have been. When Heisman Trophy-winning QB Matt Leinart opted to return to USC for his senior season, San Francisco had to call an audible on who would be their top pick. The choice was ultimately Smith, and he soon became a true 49er by landing a record contract for a rookie: $49.5 million in cash and prizes. Okay, maybe there were no prizes involved. As Randy Moss would say, it was "straight cash, homey."
 
Perhaps Smith's throwing hand hurts from counting it all. His passer ratings of 8.5 for the Indy game and 12.5 for the season are easily the lowest in the league.
 
Even so, all is not gloom and doom for the young 49ers signal caller. For one, he won't be suffering another beating this Sunday. (The schedule maker has kindly given San Francisco a Week 6 bye.) And secondly, there are still 11 games remaining to get things right.
 
The Cold, Hard Football Facts are nothing if not gracious hosts. Encouraging the contestants is part of the gig. Plus, like a liquored-up Richard Dawson, we get to plant kisses on all the hotties.
 
So how is Alex Smith spending his week off? The survey says that "watching tons of game tape" is right at the top of the board. It is followed closely by "rereading the playbook" and "identifying team colors." "Licking his wounds" is also a good answer, good answer.
 
The wheel of fortune can certainly turn quickly in the NFL. Smith should take solace in the eventual rise to prominence of some of his predecessors. Denver's John Elway had one of the most inauspicious debuts for any quarterback, never mind one with the lofty expectations of being the first overall pick. Throwing just 10 times, he had as many passes caught by the Steelers as he did by his Broncos teammates (one interception, one completion). Pittsburgh had seen Terry Bradshaw get a similarly rude welcome to the league. The Oilers limited him to just four completions on his 16 attempts. Of course, both men would go on to win multiple Super Bowls and be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
 
Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, 15 quarterbacks have been taken with the first overall pick. The chart below shows the stats that each put up in his first start.
 
Quarterback (Year)
Att.
Comp.
Pct.
Yards
Y/A
TDs
INTs
Rating
Alex Smith ('05)
23
9
39.1
74
3.2
0
4
8.5
Eli Manning ('04)
37
17
45.9
162
4.4
1
2
45.1
Carson Palmer ('03)
27
18
66.7
248
9.2
1
1
105.2
David Carr ('02)
22
10
45.5
145
6.6
2
1
78.8
Michael Vick ('01)
12
4
33.3
32
2.7
1
0
70.1
Tim Couch ('99)
24
12
50.0
134
5.6
1
0
80.9
Peyton Manning ('98)
37
21
56.8
302
8.2
1
3
58.6
Drew Bledsoe ('93)
30
14
46.7
148
4.9
2
1
69.9
Jeff George ('90)
24
13
54.2
160
6.7
1
0
88.9
Troy Aikman ('89)
35
17
48.6
180
5.1
0
2
40.2
Vinny Testaverde ('87)
47
22
46.8
369
7.9
2
2
70.3
John Elway ('83)
8
1
12.5
14
1.8
0
1
0.0
Steve Bartkowski ('75)
16
8
50.0
81
5.1
0
1
38.8
Jim Plunkett ('71)
15
6
40.0
127
8.5
2
0
110.3
Terry Bradshaw ('70)
16
4
25.0
70
4.4
0
1
19.3
 
Comparing and analyzing the numbers, here's what we find:
  • Smith is the only one of the group to throw at least four interceptions.
  • Smith's 8.5 passer rating is second-worst to Elway's 0.0.
  • Smith ranks third-worst in yards per attempt (3.2), topping only Elway (1.8) and Vick (2.7).
  • With a completion percentage of 39.1, Smith beats only Elway (12.5), Bradshaw (25.0) and Vick (33.3).
  • Smith is the first No. 1 quarterback not to throw a TD pass in his debut since Aikman, 16 years ago.
Despite virtually no production, both Elway and Vick ended up being winners in their initial NFL games. Bradshaw, meanwhile, came out on the losing end of a 19-7 score. Since Smith lost by 25 points and did more to hurt his team by turning the ball over five times, it could be convincingly argued that Smith had the worst debut of any top-drafted quarterback in the modern era.
 
Thanks for playing, Alex. Enjoy your lovely parting gifts.

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