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Player Spotlight: Alex Smith

A detailed look at Alex Smith's fantasy prospects for 2013

Congratulations, I've just made you an NFL general manager. Your first order of business is choosing a quarterback to guide your franchise. You've been asked to choose between two young passers based the following sample size. 

PlayerCompsAttsCmp%YardsYPAttTDsINTsFPTs
QB1 153 218 70.2% 1,737 8.0 13 5 133.9
QB2 136 218 62.4% 1,814 8.3 10 3 127.7

Tough choice, right? One thing is for certain though, both players look highly capable.*** QB1 completed more than 70% of their passes but not at the expense of dink and dunking. They averaged a very impressive 8.0 yards per attempt and threw 13 touchdowns in just 218 attempts. Pro rate those numbers over a 550 attempt season and you've got a stellar fantasy quarterback:

  • 386 completions
  • 550 attempts
  • 70.2% completion rate
  • 4,382 yards
  • 33 touchdowns
  • 13 interceptions
  • 338 fantasy points

How many head coaches would be happy with that kind of season from their starting quarterback? Well, apparently Jim Harbaugh isn't easily impressed because QB1 is none other than Alex Smith.  In spite of being on pace for a monster year, Coach Harbaugh opted to bench his starter in favor of Colin Kaepernick -- who happens to be QB2 in the table above. Needless to say, Coach Harbaugh and the 49ers brass don't regret their decision considering Kaepernick led them to a Super Bowl appearance. The important take away though is that Alex Smith is NO SLOUCH. In fact, in the right hands he can be a highly productive passer.

Andy Reid is the very definition of "in the right hands"...

When Andy Reid took over the Kansas City Chiefs franchise this offseason, his first order of business was acquiring Alex Smith from the 49ers. Given Reid's history, we should have the utmost confidence in the decision. Consider:

  • Brett Favre emerged as an NFL MVP candidate while Reid was his position coach
  • Donovan McNabb went to six Pro Bowls while playing for Reid -- and looked like a completely different player in Washington and Minnesota
  • Jeff Garcia (at 36 years old) went 5-1 with a 96 passer rating as an injury fill in under Reid
  • Michael Vick emerged from prison and turned into an MVP runner up playing for Reid
  • A.J. Feeley and Kevin Kolb both played well in limited time for Reid, and then struggled mightily as starters for other teams

The point here is that quarterbacks under Reid have always played their best football, regardless of their pedigrees coming into his system. That bodes extremely well for a 29-year old with a background in Reid's preferred West Coast offense. 

The West Coast Offense + The Pistol = A Dream System for Alex Smith

Alex Smith was the 1st overall pick coming out of the Utah, but he wasn't without his critics. Few questioned his ability to process a playbook (Smith is highly intelligent), his leadership or character, but scouts wondered if Smith's college system would translate well into a traditional NFL system. Smith ran what was then considered an unconventional system called the spread option playing for Urban Meyer, and it called for Smith to play the majority of his snaps from the shotgun. Smith landed with the 49ers where he was asked to learn a traditional West Coast offense. Smith's career had its ups and downs, but he eventually settled into a rhythm as an accurate, in-the-pocket passer. Fast forward to 2013, and the spread option has become so popular that many of NCAA's top offenses run a derivation and many NFL teams have incorporated concepts into their playbook.

Andy Reid has always been a traditional West Coast disciple, and that will be the base of his system in Kansas City. Smith will immediately understand the formations, playbook, terminology and cadences. But Reid is also an innovator and has quietly integrated spread option concepts into his system. His long-time assistant Brad Childress holds the title of "Spread Game Coordinator" and the Chiefs hired Chris Ault as an offensive assistant -- Ault is considered the father of the "Pistol" offense, another derivation of the modern renaissance of option attacks. By incorporating spread option concepts with traditional West Coast principles, Reid is effectively tailoring a system to match Alex Smith's abilities. That's the way smart coaches win games. 

Plenty of Weapons, And Don't Worry About the Offensive Line

The Chiefs may not be mistaken for the 2012 Patriots, but the team is hardly devoid of talent on the offensive side of the ball.  Jamaal Charles is one of the most explosive players at his position, and an ideal fit for Reid's system that rewards versatile RBs that can catch as well as they run. Dwayne Bowe is a dominant, legitimate WR1 in his prime. Rookie Travis Kelce has the makings of an impact receiving tight end and Anthony Fasano is a solid red zone target. 

The offensive line retained LT Brandon Albert but also drafted Eric Fisher 1st overall to anchor the right side of the line. Center Rodney Hudson is healthy after missing much of the 2012 season. Last year's 2nd round pick Jeff Allen should solidify one of the interior guard positions. Is this an elite offensive line? Probably not, but it should be good enough to allow Smith to execute the game plan. 

*** Hat tip to Ray Flowers of SiriusXM's Fantasy Drive for first drawing my attention to the fact Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick had the same number of attempts in 2012

POSITIVES

  • Alex Smith is still in his prime, and is coming off a season that equated to fantasy QB1 numbers
  • Andy Reid has a long history of getting the most out of his quarterbacks, and Reid hand picked Smith to be the centerpiece of his rebuilt Chiefs offense
  • The Chiefs are going to incorporate traditional West Coast principles with pistol/spread concepts -- and Smith has experience in both systems (WCO as a pro, Spread as a college player at Utah)

NEGATIVES

  • Outside of Dwayne Bowe (who is a legitimate WR1), the Chiefs' receiving corps is full of questions
  • The Chiefs offensive line is a work in progress (although they did add 1st overall pick Eric Fisher to the mix)
  • In seven NFL seasons Smith has never finished higher than QB16

FINAL THOUGHTS

Alex Smith has been unfairly maligned by fantasy football pundits. While it's true he's never finished as a fantasy QB1, he's made steady progress and was ironically well on his way to a QB1 season in 2012 when Jim Harbaugh decided to bench him in favor of Colin Kaepernick. What could've been a sad end to his days as a starter ended up as the start of an intriguing renaissance in Kansas City. Smith gets to play for Andy Reid, who in 14 seasons in Philadelphia managed to get the very best out of every quarterback on his roster. He made Donovan McNabb a perennial Pro Bowler. He turned Michael Vick into an MVP candidate. He even won games with Koy Detmer, A.J. Feeley and Mike Kafka. There's no question that Reid will put Smith in a position to thrive, and that should easily lead to a career year. 

Let me be clear, I'm an outlier among our staff when it comes to Alex Smith. Most of my colleagues view Smith as little more than a deep backup option (QB25 is his current ADP), whereas I genuinely believe he can be an effective and valuable fantasy QB2. Considering his ADP, Smith is someone you can target VERY late in drafts, which means when other owners are grabbing their backups you can be adding an extra layer of depth at running back and wide receiver.

PROJECTIONS

NameCmpAttsYdsPaTDINTsRushRuYdsRuTDFPTs
David Dodds 300 490 3381 21 12 46 161 2 278
Bob Henry 297 480 3390 21 13 40 150 2 276
Jason Wood 355 575 3600 23 10 45 145 2 302
Maurile Tremblay 301 486 3512 17 14 52 218 1 260

THOUGHTS FROM AROUND THE WEB

Eric Karabell of ESPN.com believes Andy Reid and Alex Smith will build an effective offense in KC this year:

In Reid's offense, if history tells us anything, Smith will be asked to throw the ball quite a bit more than he's used to, though not deep. This style of offense worked for the veteran coach for more than a decade with the Philadelphia Eagles. Reid relied on the interesting Donovan McNabb for much of that time, and let's be clear: He was the opposite of an accurate passer and wise decision-maker. Smith is going to thrive in this offense by dinking and dunking the football in short and intermediate routes and avoiding calamity, the so-called field general who won't lose games. 

Kyle Wachtel (Footballguys' own) analyzed Smith shortly after the trade from San Francisco:

I don’t expect him to carry over the efficiency he maintained in San Francisco to Kansas City. However, even a whopping 10% drop-off from his passing numbers would still leave his projected total fantasy points at 253.3, which would have placed him 12th among quarterbacks in 2012. At 28 years old, he’s not exactly on the downside of his athletic career either.

His post-trade ADP has yet to be calculated, but I don’t expect fantasy owners to treat him as anything more than a late round flier and low-end QB2. While he may not single-handedly win you a fantasy football championship, the numbers indicate that Alex Smith is better than that.


More from Jason Wood:

On Second Thought: Defenses and Kickers - August 28
On Second Thought: Running Backs - August 28
On Second Thought: Tight Ends - August 28
On Second Thought: Quarterbacks - August 28
On Second Thought: Wide Receivers - August 28
What If Roddy White or Julio Jones Are Lost for the Season? - August 19
What If Robert Griffin III Is Lost for the Season? - August 19
What If Cecil Shorts Is Lost for the Season? - August 19
Player Spotlight: Philip Rivers - August 8
Player Spotlight: Jordan Cameron - August 7