Wed Nov 04 11:32am EST
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If at first you don't succeed, try, try again, Alex Smith.
Four years ago, the future was blindingly bright for the former Utah standout. Selected No. 1 overall, he was destined to resurrect a franchise several years removed from its QB golden era. Unfortunately, the exorbitant draft pick, plagued by a revolving door of offensive coordinators, health setbacks and his own general ineptitude, traveled down the Joey Harrington(notes) road to Suck City.
Because of his horrific play, it's understandable why the fantasy community and most Niners fans are Smith stained. Prior to this year in 33 career games, he had completed an atrocious 54.4 percent of his attempts and racked an equally reprehensible 19:31 TD:INT split. For the anti-Montana, championships, statistical competency and L.A. Gear endorsement deals (Joe Cool can dunk?) were seemingly unreachable.
But as we've learned from the sluggish early career paths of Steve McNair(notes) and more recently Aaron Rodgers(notes), some hyped prospects simply need extensive seasoning before unlocking their true potential. Smith could be the latest example.
Entering the 2009 season, the underachieving passer was one of the league's most expensive backups. Losing out to noodle-armed journeyman Shaun Hill(notes) in training camp, he again was certain not to live up to expectation. It seemed JaMarcus Russell(notes) wafted a less putrid odor across the Bay.
However, Smith is finally starting to smell surprisingly good.
Though he's only played six quarters, the late-bloomer has discarded training bra for manzier. Against Houston and arguably the AFC's stingiest pass defense, Indianapolis, Smith repressed his Rattayn side (See Week 8 highlights here). His time spent learning Jimmy Raye's system observationally proved beneficial. In those two contests he completed a respectable 62.9 percent of his passes for 404 yards, tallying a 4:2 TD:INT split. He also chipped in 26 rushing yards.
Of course, the sample size is small and the numbers are hardly gaudy, but in terms of future production, there's a great deal to get excited about. Here's why the Noise believes Alexander the-soon-to-be Great could be a second-half difference maker:
1) Playmakers. San Francisco boasts a bevy of phenomenally skilled vertical weapons. Frank Gore(notes) is one of the game's most explosive all-around backs. Isaac Bruce(notes) still possesses enough savvy and stick ‘em to exploit weaknesses in coverage. And the gentlemen's club combo of Vernon Davis(notes) (VD) and Michael Crabtree(notes) (Crabs) are exceptional. When a third receiver is needed, Josh Morgan(notes) is also a viable option.
Crabtree in particular has shown incredible adroitness and athleticism in just two games. In those efforts he's tallied 15 targets, 11 catches and 137 yards. When you think about it – keep in mind league rules prohibit unsigned picks from playbook access – the former Texas Tech star's immediate impact has been astonishing. Smith is thrilled to have him onboard:
"He's just a real natural player," the quarterback said. "Strong hands, good route running. He keeps the game for what it is. He doesn't let the game get bigger than it is."
Although Smith-to-Crabtree is not exactly Montana-to-Rice, based on the receiver's limitless upside, increased connections are a foregone conclusion.
Due to the weapons surrounding Smith, if Raye, who has been blasted repeatedly by fans and the media in recent days, removes the padlock from the playbook by installing more spread elements – plays Smith thrived in at Utah – it could transform the Niners offense into a juggernaut. Even if traditional two WR sets and a power running game remain the norm, the burgeoning passer could still yield a profitable QB1 return in 12-team and deeper leagues.
2) The Alex Smith you know and hate is dead. A magnet for sacks and turnovers earlier in his career, he has exhibited more awareness, looking relaxed in the pocket. More importantly, instead of trying to push the envelope under duress, he's wisely pulled back throwing passes away. Overall, bewilderment has given way to poise. Mike Singletary agrees. From the San Francisco Chronicle:
"All I know right now is Alex looks very calm," Singletary said. "The game has definitely slowed down quite a bit (for him). His mechanics are a lot better right now, and I think he has a better command of the offense."
Occasional accuracy lapses have occurred, but Smith is head-and-shoulders better than he was less than a year ago. With his confidence growing, he could become a deadly dual-threat. Remember, coming out of college many scouts compared his foot-speed, strong-arm and athleticism to Steve Young. Too bad he's trapped in a conservative system.
3) Schedule. According to the must-bookmark schedule analyzer at FFToday, minus matchups against an improving Arizona pass defense, Green Bay and Philadelphia, Smith's upcoming slate is libido-driving, especially this week versus Tennessee and Week 16 against woeful Detroit. Peruse below:
Although Cortland Finnegan(notes) and Vincent Fuller(notes) returned last Sunday and corner Nick Harper(notes) could be activated this week, the Titans, even at full-strength, are a vulnerable secondary. On the season they've yielded 299.1 yards and 2.7 touchdowns per game to gunslingers equal to the most fantasy points allowed. Borderline top 12 numbers are definitely attainable for Smith in Week 9.
The loss of protective bookends Tony Pashos(notes) and Joe Staley(notes) could cause problems against aggressive pass rushers, but if he can continue to exude confidence, the 34 percent-owned commodity definitely has enough lethal weapons to be this year's version of Tyler Thigpen(notes).
It's time to reexamine Smith.
Week 9 Fearless Forecast: 21-34, 246 passing yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception, 18 rushing yards, 24 fantasy points
Do you believe Smith finally starting to come out of his shell? Who do you think will be this year's Tyler Thigpen? L.A. Gear light shoes: annoying or brilliant? Discuss below.
Image courtesy of US Presswire