Alex Smith is having the best year of his career for the Kansas City Chiefs

Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs have most certainly had their ups and downs this year, but Smith is having the best year of his career.

Everyone has a different opinion concerning Kansas City Chiefs starting quarterback Alex Smith, but no matter your take, he is having the best year of his career—with three games left in the regular season. Smith talked before the season about having to play better if he wants to stay the quarterback after the Chiefs drafted rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the first round of the 2017 draft. He has done just that.

Smith is coming off of a rough year in 2016, when he set a career high in passing yards, but only threw 15 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. The Chiefs staff thought it was in best interest for the team’s future to trade up in the 2017 draft to select Mahomes at 10th overall. Smith’s response has been exactly what the Chiefs coaches, and certainly Smith himself, had hoped to see.

For most of the 2017 season, Smith has been much better than years past. He’s been more willing to throw the ball deep and into tighter windows, and the ensuing results have been more big plays than ever for the Chiefs offense. Even during the team’s losing streak, which included six losses in the team’s last seven games before Sunday’s win, the offense had some bright moments.

Following the game against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday afternoon, Smith now has 3,507 passing yards on the season now passing his last years highest by five yards. He has also tied a couple other career marks, including 8 yards gained per pass attempt (2012, his last year with the San Francisco 49ers) and touchdowns at 23 (2013). Imagine, if Smith threw a single touchdown on Sunday, or if some didn’t get called back because of boneheaded penalties, he would have broken his single-season touchdown record, too.

The biggest accusation of Smith before the 2017 season was that he was unable to throw the ball deep down the field. Despite the fact that Smith tends to throw to shorter routes most of the time, he has proven that he can throw the ball deep this year. After ranking 21st in completions of 20 plus yards in 2016 with 39, he is ranked 9th in 2017 with 45. He also improved his completions of 40 plus yards from tied at 12th to ranking 4th this year with 11.

A true deep threat

Let’s look at what’s changed this year for Smith to surpass his career highs. The obvious starting point is wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who was given the chance this year to become a true number one receiver. In 2016, Hill wasn’t involved in the offense very often until halfway through the year. He was also a guy sometimes considered a gadget player, since he was utilized all over the place.

Hill has made the transition to a number one wide receiver in the NFL very quickly. His route tree has grown significantly and he’s become not only a deep threat that Kansas City has needed outside of tight end Travis Kelce, but a weapon which can be used all over the field. Smith, who has been known for wanting a bigger window to make a deep throw, has the perfect guy in Tyreek Hill who can outrun anyone in the NFL to give him that window.

Aggressive playcalling

In the four years prior that Smith has been at the helm of the offense, the playcalling’s been very conservative and filled with bubble screens and check down plays. Head coach Andy Reid and now offensive coordinator Matt Nagy have done a good job of drawing up and calling more aggressive downfield plays in 2017 outside of a few games. Especially in the first five weeks of the 2017 season, Smith was leading the way in the accuracy of 20 plus yards down the field and much of it had to do with the aggressive plays being called.

Stronger running game

Even though the Chiefs have gone away from the run game in multiple games this season, rookie running back Kareem Hunt has been a real threat to defenses. Teams began to game plan to stop the run first following Hunt’s electric start to the season. To put that in perspective, Hunt carried the ball for 609 yards in the first five weeks of the season.

With defenses keying in on stopping the Chiefs run game, it allows Smith to drive the ball down the field without the worry of extra safety help over the top of the defense. The lack of the run game last year due primarily to injuries of running backs Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West resulted in a pass-heavy offense without the threat of a dangerous running attack.

Now that there is a true threat in the backfield with Smith, defenses are unable to focus on just the pass. In Hunt’s rookie season, he has already gone over the 1,000-yard mark and is averaging 4.8 yards per carry. He also is the second highest rusher in the NFL so far this season trailing Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell.

Moving forward?

Reid and the Chiefs organization have stuck to their word of keeping Smith as the starter this year even when Smith and the rest of the offense struggled during a landslide of losses. The chants from fans for Mahomes have not resulted in a quarterback change, and  its unlikely that will change anytime soon. The Chiefs believe they can win games with Smith and get to the postseason.

Mahomes will stay benched behind Smith unless there is an injury forcing the rookie to step in. Even with Smith having the best year of his career, many are still left wondering how far it will be able to take the Chiefs come playoff time. They are in control of their own destiny at this point but the Chargers are zeroing in on them.

Smith and the offense are going to have to be more consistent and put up more points if they want any shot at the playoffs or to move past the divisional round in the playoffs. They will also have to pick up some of the slack left over by the defense as that side of the ball has their fair share of struggles as well. I hope that Smith plays the rest of this season like a man trying to boost his resume as he will more than likely find himself on another team in 2018. How far that will take the Chiefs is to still be determined.