By Rich Kurtzman
Name: Alex Smith – QB – 11
Weight: 217 pounds
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Experience: 8 years
2012 was a year to forget for the Kansas City Chiefs.
When it was all said and done, the Chiefs went 2-14, which qualified as the worst record in the NFL. The season was marred by too many injuries to recite here, and quarterback was one of their most unstable positions.
Matt Cassel began as the starter, leading the team to one win and struggling mightily in every other contest. On October 7, he sustained a concussion against the Baltimore Ravens; Chiefs fans actually cheered because they wanted anyone other than him. He was out two weeks before playing four more games and eventually getting benched in favor of Brady Quinn.
Quinn didn’t fare much better, and each journeyman quarterback finished 1-7 as the team’s starter. Cassel’s passer rating was a poor 66.7, Quinn’s, 60.1, and the two combined to pass for a league-worst eight touchdowns compared to 20 interceptions.
In steps Alex Smith, who the Chiefs traded for after the conclusion of the season, to hopefully right the ship in K.C.
Smith was an absolute stud in his college playing days, winning Mountain West Player of the Year his senior season throwing for 2,952 yards and 32 touchdowns while running for 631 yards and 10 touchdowns. He led Utah to a Fiesta Bowl win before getting drafted first by the San Francisco 49ers.
In San Francisco, Smith’s career was much more a roller coaster ride full of coaching changes, inconsistent rosters and unpredictable play by the QB. He started slowly, getting benched his rookie year after playing in nine games throwing for one touchdown and 11 interceptions. He improved in his second season before injuring his shoulder in 2007 and then his back in 2008. In 2009, he won the starting job mid-way through the year and held onto it through half of the next season, before again being benched due to inconsistent play.
Finally, in 2011, his sixth as a professional, Smith discovered how to perform at a high level. He won and held onto the starting spot for all 16 games, enjoying his top season statistically with 3,144 yards, 17 touchdowns and only five interceptions. 49er fans were starting to see what they wanted to see out of a former first pick. The 49ers finished 13-3, losing to the eventual Super Bowl Champion New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game. However Alex Smith was turning heads with his performance.
Last year, he was the starter in San Francisco and continued to improve. That was, until a concussion ended his season. Colin Kaepernick took over and performed magically, starting the final six regular season and two postseason games for the team at QB.
San Francisco decided to stick with the younger and more versatile Kaepernick, trading Smith to Kansas City for the Chiefs’ 2014 second round pick.
The 49ers’ loss is the Chief’s gain.
Smith’s passer rating has steadily improved over the last four straight seasons, from 57.2 in 2007 to a career-high 104.1 last year. That 104.1 would have been third-best in the league behind only Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning, if Smith would have started enough games to qualify. It’s clear he’s worked diligently to become a better passer, his career-best 70.2 completion percentage last season is further evidence of that fact.
He’s no one-trick pony either; Smith can tuck the ball and take off for yards on the ground with fleet feet, averaging over 100 yards running per year, with four touchdowns scored on the ground in his career.
For 49ers fans that struggled alongside Smith over the last seven seasons, his rise to prominence must be a bittersweet pill to swallow. While they now have Kaepernick, Smith’s finally caught on and caught up to NFL speed, now he’ll take those talents to a new town and new team in Kansas City.
Chiefs fans just hope he continues on his upswing and is able to bring exciting football back to Arrowhead Stadium this fall in the tough AFC West division.
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.