On March 4th of this year I posted a piece called “The Alex Smith Trade: Dreams Crushed, Hope Found” that detailed my reaction to the Chiefs acquiring their new QB. The short version is that I was bummed that KC wouldn’t be drafting their own franchise QB, but hopeful that Alex Smith might be more than just a game manager in KC. I even went so far as to say that Andy Reid and John Dorsey might be hoping to make Smith KC’s own version of Drew Brees. Here’s a quote from that piece.
It got me thinking about another QB that switched teams under similar circumstances at a similar point in his career. This QB was seen as a solid starter but was let go because the team had a young QB that was seen as having a greater upside. In his two seasons directly before leaving he averaged 450 attempts per season, about 3,368 yards/season, had about a 65% completion percentage, and averaged 7.5 yards per attempt. Those numbers are pretty similar to what Smith has done over his past 32 games played. This QB went to a new team with a chip on his shoulder and a coach that built his offense around his abilities and his attempts jumped up to 554 in his first season with the new team and he threw for 4,418 yards which was over 800 yards more than his previous career high. Overnight he went from being “just an average NFL QB that lacks the elite talent to win Super Bowls” to one of the most prolific passers in NFL history, and eventually a Super Bowl champion. That QB is Drew Brees.
I thought it might be fun this week to explore this comparison a little more. After all, despite having a talented all around roster, the only way that KC could vault from 2-14 and the first pick overall to a Super Bowl contender would be for Smith to make the jump to elite QB. Let me be very clear, I am not predicting that Alex Smith will be the next Drew Brees, I’m asking if it’s possible.
First off, I will say that I am 100% expecting Smith’s numbers to take a jump in Andy Reid’s offense. Smith’s previous career high in attempts was 445. The average passing attempts in a season for Andy Reid’s offenses is 562. Yes, the Chiefs have Jamaal Charles, but JC isn’t a 400 carry type of RB, so I think it’s safe to assume Smith’s attempts will make a dramatic jump up similar to what Brees’s did when he went from SD to NO. In that same piece linked above I gave the figures for Smith if you took his stats from his past 32 games played and applied them to a 16 game season with the amount of attempts for an Andy Reid offense.
354-562 (63%), 4,189 yards (7.5 YPA), 27 TDs and 7 INTs
That’s not quite Brees numbers, but much better than what Smith has done thus far in his career.
Age wise, Alex Smith (29) is slightly older than Brees was when he went to NO (27). However, Smith only has 4 seasons under his belt where he started 10 or more games which is the exact same number as Brees when he switched teams. So despite the 2 year age difference the amount of playing experience is similar.
So how do their numbers compare?
Let’s start with completion percentage. When Brees arrived in NO his career completion percentage was 62.2% and his career high was 65.5%. Since arriving in NO, Brees has completed 67.1% of his passes. Alex Smith comes to KC with a career completion percentage of 59.3% but was on track for a career high of 70.2% when he lost his job last season. So although his career average is 2.9% lower than Brees’s was, I don’t think he’s that far off.
Next, let’s look at yards per passing attempt. One of the big complaints about Smith is that he’s a “game manager” that doesn’t stretch the field. It’s the number one reason most people don’t think Smith can be a true franchise QB. However, Smith’s career YPA of 6.6 is only 0.2 behind Brees’s when he switched teams at 6.8 YPA. Plus, Smith’s 8.0 YPA last season was actually better than Brees’s career high in San Diego of 7.9. Brees’s YPA since he arrived in NO has been 7.7.
When looking at touchdowns and interceptions I’m going to compare frequency as opposed to totals. In San Diego Brees averaged one TD for every 22.6 attempts and one interception every 34.1 attempts. In San Francisco Smith averaged one TD every 26.9 attempts and one interception every 34.6 attempts. So at the time of their switch their INT numbers were very comparable, but Brees did throw more TD passes. For what it’s worth, Brees has averaged one TD for every 17.8 attempts and one INT for every 38.8 attempts in New Orleans.
Long story short, Brees had slightly better numbers (but certainly not drastic) when he switched teams than Smith brings with him to KC. While Brees deserves credit for that, it should also be noted that Brees was in a much more stable environment in terms of coaching. Brees had the same head coach and offensive coordinator for his four seasons as the Chargers starting QB (Marty Schottenheimer and Cam Cameron) while Smith has gone through three head coaches and seven offensive coordinators with the 49ers (Jim Harbaugh, Mike Singletary, and Mike Nolan at HC and Greg Roman, Mike Johnson, Jimmy Raye, Mike Martz, Jim Hostler, Norv Turner, and Mike McCarthy at OC). So the question is does all that turnover justify Smith having 2.9% lower completion percentage, 0.2 less YPA, and 4.3 more attempts per TD thrown?
An even better question is could Alex Smith see the same kind of bump in his numbers now that he is in a pass first offense? Drew Brees in NO has a 4.9% better completion percentage than he did in San Diego, averaged 0.9 better YPA, 9.1 less attempts per TD, and 4.2 more attempts per INT.
So why compare Alex Smith to this elite Super Bowl winner? It seems impossible that Alex Smith would go from game manager to such a productive QB. That’s exactly why Brees is the perfect comparison, because no one would have believed that Brees would have made that same transformation either. When Brees left San Diego he was a game manager too. It was believed that Phillip Rivers had much greater upside and that Brees basically benefitted from defenses focusing on Ladainian Tomlinson who averaged over 1,500 yards and 15 TDs per season while Brees was the starter. The idea of him going somewhere without Tomlinson and carrying an offense on his back would have been just as crazy. Brees was just the “best QB available” for new Saints coach Sean Payton, just as Alex Smith was just the “best QB available” for Andy Reid.
So the idea of taking someone that others thought was just a game manager and making him the centerpiece of your offense is not something that has never been done before. The question is simply wether Alex Smith is up to the challenge. There’s no way to know until the games start, but I stand by what I said back in March. Andy Reid and John Dorsey didn’t bring Alex Smith to KC to be a game manager.
So what do you think Addicts? I look forward to your comments below.
As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!!