My thoughts on Alex Smith as the Redskins starting quarterback
For some time now, I have been quietly putting the case that Alex Smith isn’t the Redskins consolation prize, but the team’s first choice from the available signal callers. My first quiet suggestion came back in mid-September 2017 when Alex Smith admitted in an interview that he was probably playing his last season in Kansas City, and that the decision to leave would be made by the franchise, and beyond his control. I wondered out loud then whether Alex Smith might be the answer in DC.
When the regular season ended, I upped the ante by writing that I felt the path to success for the Redskins lay in commitment to building a defensive bully that could provide a winning platform for a talented but relatively low cost quarterback. I mentioned Alex Smith alongside a handful of other names as an example of the kind of guy the Redskins could win with after moving on from Kirk Cousins.
I doubled down on the day that the Kendall Fuller for Alex Smith trade was announced. I cited Alex Smith’s history and reputation as a leader and a winner to say that he was, indeed, the right guy for the Redskins.
Now I'm pushing all my chips to the middle of the table.
Alex is the man for the future
Am I worried about his age? No, I’m not. NFL years are like dog-years; players age much faster as professional athletes than they do as average-Joe human beings, but quarterbacks, due to the nature of the position, have longer shelf lives, and Alex Smith — much like Kirk Cousins and Tom Brady — has committed himself throughout his career to keeping his body in top performance condition. He is a finely tuned physical specimen that isn’t about to ‘fall off a cliff’ in terms of ability to perform.
Just as important is the fact that 13 years as an NFL starting quarterback gives Alex Smith a deep understanding of the game and a high level of situational awareness. Alex Smith isn't declining; in the contrary, he's at the peak of his game when you combine his physical abilities with the cerebral side of being an NFL quarterback.
Is he gonna play 5 to 7 years? Probably not; but I feel confident that he’ll be able to play the next three years at a very high level, and that’s all that his contract really requires.
Smith brings leadership, knowledge and an athletic style of play that I believe make him best-suited to run Jay Gruden’s offense. I think that, not only is he physically gifted, but that he has the temperament and cerebral gifts that Jay values in a quarterback.
In short, while I think Kirk Cousins is very good, and while I was very happy that he was the Redskins starting quarterback for the past three years, I’m more confident in Alex Smith, and happier that he will lead the team for the next three years.
I realize that this is not a popular view among Hogs Haven readers, writers, and the Redskins fan base in general, but I’ve found at least one guy who knows a little bit about football who agrees with me.
Bucky Brooks wrote an article recently in which he discussed a lot of goings-on in the NFL, but a large part of that article was dedicated to making the argument that I have been making; to wit, that Alex Smith is the better option at quarterback for the Redskins.
Bucky Brooks, being a lot more knowledgeable about the NFL than me, makes the argument in a much more convincing way.
Bucky Brooks says Alex Smith is a better quarterback than Kirk Cousins
When I heard Gruden go to the mat for Smith, I thought it was another example of a head coach endorsing his current QB1. I thought the tape and data would show that these quarterbacks were similar, but to my surprise, Smith is indeed the far superior player.
Of the 11 Next Gen Stats passing categories, Smith had a better passer rating in seven last season:
- Short (from behind line of scrimmage up to 10 air yards): Smith (97.2), Cousins (92.0).
- Intermediate (10 to 19 air yards): Cousins (90.8), Smith (90.1).
- Deep (20-plus air yards): Smith (134.7), Cousins (93.8).
- Middle third: Smith (103.6), Cousins (81.8).
- Outside the numbers: Smith (105.1), Cousins (101.2).
- Against blitz: Cousins (98.6), Smith (94.9).
- Against pressure: Smith (97.0), Cousins (59.1).
- Tight windows: Smith (67.6), Cousins (53.4).
- Outside the tackle box: Cousins (118.6), Smith (71.4).
- Less than 2.50 seconds: Cousins (104.7), Smith (86.4).
- 2.50 seconds-plus: Smith (111.2), Cousins (85.9).
Despite being labeled a “dink and dunk” quarterback for most of his career, Smith is an outstanding passer when targeting every area of the field. From “catch, rock and fire” throws near the line of scrimmage to pushing the ball down the field on vertical throws, Smith was more effective than his predecessor. When you dig a little deeper into the shot chart, you also discover that Smith is not only more effective between the hashes, but he is also more efficient hitting receivers outside the numbers.
Although target areas reveal a lot about a passer’s game, defensive coaches will quickly tell you that the best quarterbacks are capable of delivering accurate throws into tight windows under duress. Smith not only ranked as arguably the best passer in the NFL against pressure, but he was an exceptional tight-window thrower in 2017. Given his effectiveness working the middle of the field and hitting tight windows, the questions regarding his timing and anticipation are well off the mark.
In fact, looking at the All-22 Coaches Film after studying the numbers, I believe Smith doesn’t get enough credit for his brilliance as a play-action passer in the game. He is a clever ball handler in the backfield with a number of deceptive tactics that lure linebackers and defensive backs to the line, which is why he was the NFL’s most effective passer on long-developing plays (passes released after 2.50 seconds) last season.
Bucky Brooks goes on to talk about some of the things besides passing that will make Alex Smith so valuable in Jay Gruden’s offense. Smith is an athlete, a runner, a dual threat who came out of college with outstanding measurables.
Looking at all of data and tape, I can see why Gruden is excited to work with his new QB1 in Washington. Smith is not only a more effective passer in nearly all areas, but he is also a superior athlete and runner, which makes him more of a dual-threat than Cousins. Now, that’s certainly not a surprise, based on their NFL Scouting Combine results. Take a look:
Smith’s 2005 combine results: 4.78-second 40-yard dash, 32-inch vertical jump, 113-inch broad jump, 6.82-second three-cone drill, 3.96-second 20-yard shuttle.
Cousins’ 2012 combine results: 4.93-seconds 40-yard dash, 28.5-inch vertical jump, 109-inch broad jump, 7.05-second three-cone drill, 4.50-second 20-yard shuttle.
It’s easy (and not unfair) to point to the 4 year age difference, 7 years' difference in NFL experience, and 10-year difference as a starting QB between Smith and Cousins, but anyone who doubts Smith’s continued athleticism need only look at Smith’s rushing stats for last season. He ran the ball 60 times for 355 yards and a touchdown. His average per carry was a highly productive 5.9 yards, and his season long run was 70 yards!
Alex Smith ran for 19 first downs last year, and if you simply put in the game tape of the Week 4 game against the Redskins, you’ll see Alex Smith gash the Redskins by running 7 times for 56 yards and a TD.
When you add Smith’s speed and athleticism to an already-potent Redskins offense with Chris Thompson, Jamison Crowder, Jordan Reed, Josh Doctson and the newly arrived Paul Richardson the result will be a solution for a lot of the third down woes that the team has suffered through in recent seasons.
Although Smith is no longer that explosive as a 33-year-old quarterback, he remains a B+ athlete based on how he runs away from defenders on tape. He is a viable option as a runner, and that impromptu playmaking ability makes him a more dangerous weapon under center. Most importantly, it adds another layer to the Redskins’ playbook and gives Gruden more options when it comes to attacking defenses on game day.
Like him or not, Smith is a better player than Cousins -- and Gruden isn’t wrong for saying so.
Alex Smith brings intangibles to the team both on an off the field. He is a smart guy who has 13 seasons of experience to help him dissect opposing defenses. Especially when compared to Cousins, who, in his 3rd year as a starter was still on a steep learning curve, Alex Smith is likely to thrive at the line of scrimmage in Jay’s offensive scheme.
Alex is a locker room leader who should provide another upgrade to a franchise that is learning how to win consistently, and how to be professional in every aspect of the game.
He is a guy who knows how to take care of his body, and who — at age 34 — can share a lot of wisdom with younger players. He has a level of credibility that comes from having been there and done that.
And Alex Smith is a winner. Smith has a career record of 88-62-1 as a starter. In the last 7 seasons (2011 to 2017) with two different teams, Alex Smith has a winning record in every season, with an overall record since 2011 of 69-31-1, a 68.3% winning percentage. Across a 16-game season, that equates to an 11-5 record. That matters.
Alex Smith also has a pedigree; lest we forget, Smith was the first overall selection in the 2005 draft. He has a career TD:INT ratio of 183-96 (26-5 in 2017), and he’s been to the Pro Bowl 3 times, including back to back in ‘16 and ‘17.
Alex Smith also provides excellent cap value as a veteran Pro Bowl quarterback willing to play for an amount of money that allows the team to build around him.
I wrote with confidence about Alex Smith on the day that we first found out via twitter that Alex Smith was the new Redskins starting quarterback, and I think it bears repeating:
In my opinion, Alex Smith is exactly the quarterback that Jay Gruden wants — conservative, careful with the ball, doesn’t make mistakes, has a quick release, situational awareness, can read a defense and understands the offense. [He also has the athleticism to extend plays and stress defenses]. I think that Alex Smith may be the ideal quarterback for Jay’s style of coaching.
Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if Alex Smith — who just put up his best career numbers as a passer in 2017... I wouldn’t be surprised if he put up bigger numbers in 2018 with Jay Gruden in charge.