Home > Stats > 1st Round Bust No More? Alex Smith’s Improvement

1st Round Bust No More? Alex Smith’s Improvement

(Originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)


“Suck For Luck!” has become the rallying cry emanating from Miami, Indianapolis and even St. Louis (where apparently Sam Bradford’s honeymoon is about over). Many fans of bad teams or teams with bad QB’s are  hoping that their team will end up atop the 2012 draft, in position to draft uber-prospect Andrew Luck (or trade the “Luck pick” for a king’s ransom). With all the hype surrounding Luck, one can’t help but think back to other QB’s who have gone 1st overall in the draft. One of whom is currently playing for Luck’s former coach – 2005 1st overall pick Alex Smith

Coming into the 2011 season, Smith had put up numbers ranging from terrible to mediocre, but he seems to be blossoming this year under Jim Harbaugh and former Stanford assistant (now 49er’s Offensive Coordinator) Greg Roman:

The column all the way to the right is the one of the most interest: Rate+. If you’re unfamiliar with the “[stat]+” type metrics, it’s a way to compare a player’s stats (in this case, Passer Rating) to the league average for that particular year. It’s calculated as follows*:


In other words, a 110 Rate+ means a QB’s rating is 10% better than the league average. A Rate+ of 90 would be 10% worse than average. In 2007, Alex Smith’s Passer Rating was 57.2 and the league average was 80.9. So his Rate+ is [100*(57.2/80.9)]=71, or 29% worse than league average. This type of statistic is especially useful for things like Passer Rating which (like ERA in baseball) varies significantly from one era to the next. Look at the average QB Passer Rating in 10 year intervals:

So, Alex Smith’s career best 82.1 passer rating in 2010 was about league average. But had he played in 1980 and put up a 82.1 rating, he’d be considered an upper-echelon QB.

If Smith can maintain his pace, he will become the 124th QB since 1970 to post a 110+ Rate+ in a season where he threw at least 150 pass attempts. While that’s not particularly notable, the fact that he could do it for the first time in his 6th 150+ attempt season is unusual. Only 7 of the 123 QB’s who have already gotten to 110+ have taken longer to hit the milestone. Of the 123, 90 of them accomplished the feat before their 4th season (47 of them did it in their first 150 attempt season). Here are the other 33:

The middle column is the number of 150+ pass attempt seasons the QB had before his 110+ Rate+ season. The column to the right is the year in which he finally got to 110.

Notable in that list is  former 1st overall pick Eli Manning and Smith’s current head coach, Harbaugh, both of whom also got to 110+ in his 6th 150+ pass attempt season. Playing for a guy who understands late-blooming QB’s can only help Smith’s career. He may never shed the “bust” label entirely, and will almost certainly never be the best QB to come out of the 2005 draft (Aaron Rodgers), but Alex Smith seems to be on the road to being a decent starting QB. At only 27 years old, he could be a solid starter in the league for the next 5-7 seasons.

*Note: Pro-Football-Reference.com (and perhaps other places) use a slightly more complex formula for coming up with [stat]+ for QB stats. My method is the “traditional” method first popularized a decade or so ago in baseball.

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