This offseason, the other two California football teams will have many different decisions to make, but the most important one will be the same. Do we give our former #1 pick another year to become the franchise QB we need, or is it time to cut ties and move in a new direction? The 49ers and Raiders each had a number one draft pick within a three year span. They both took potential franchise quarterbacks, but neither has panned out to this point. Though there are plenty of pros and cons for both dilemmas, I think the answers are pretty simple. One is favorable and one is not. Let’s take a look at how both QBs got to the point they’re at, and the potential outcomes moving forward.
2005: The 49ers were coming off a 2-14 season and held the first overall pick. There was plenty of talent available, but SF’s biggest need was at Quarterback. The choice came down to Alex Smith or Aaron Rodgers. In the end, Smith was heralded as the better athlete, and more intelligent. Now, for every Ronnie Brown, Braylon Edwards, or Demarcus Ware they passed on, there was also a Cedric Benson, Pacman Jones, or Mike Williams that would’ve been worse. But, since Rodgers was the only other guy they were going to pick, he’s the only one it’s fair to compare with. To this point, Rodgers has thrown for more yards and touchdowns on less attempts than Smith, while throwing less interceptions as well. Smith got off to a rough start in his first year, throwing 1 TD pass to 11 interceptions. In 2006, he looked to be coming into form, completing 58% of his passes and connecting on 16 TD passes to 16 INTs. Last season was derailed by a shoulder injury, however, and when he came back this season, Shaun Hill had beat him out for the starting job. Smith, however, replaced Hill in Week 7, and had an up and down final 11 games to end the season. He finished with his best ever TD to INT ratio at 18:12. He also completed over 60% of his passes. The problem, though, is he still has yet to live up to his potential, and the 49ers are left to question whether he ever will. I can’t say with confidence that he will, but the chances are much better than his Oakland counterpart. Smith’s shoulder probably still caused him some discomfort early this season, but he should be back to full strength by now. The reason I see him getting better is his intelligence. While there certainly are exceptions based on physical gifts, the best QBs, like starting pitchers in baseball, are the smart ones who figure out the game and learn to play within it. I think Alex Smith can only get better the more he plays.
2007: The Raiders were coming off a 2-14 season of their own and held the first pick also. Also in need of a franchise QB, Al Davis couldn’t resist the size of LSU’s Jamarcus Russell, and despite new Head Coach, Lane Kiffin’s objections, selected him with the #1 overall pick. While I never really questioned the Niners’ selection of Alex Smith, I knew this one was doomed from the start. We all knew Russell could throw a ball across the Bay from his knees, but how does that translate to playing QB in the NFL? What he made up for in physical tools, he lacked in the mental department. Three seasons later, he has alienated himself from teammates and fans, something that’s hard to do in Oakland. The combination of bonehead plays, lack of accountability and complete lack of pocket presence has lead many to question his future as this team’s quarterback. He was given the keys to the franchise this year and repeatedly drove the wagon off a cliff, with an untimely interception, sack, or fumble. In his three year career, he’s completed just 52% of his passes for a lowly 65.2 QB rating. He’s also thrown just 18 TD passes to 23 INTs. Those numbers would all surely be lower if 90% of his passes weren’t dump off passes to backs. When he was replaced by Bruce Gradkowski this year, the rest of the team clearly elevated their level of play. It looked as if they felt they had a much better chance with anyone other than Russell out there. Now, whenever Russell gets into the game, it’s the result of an injury to another QB, and he is inevitably greeted with boos from the Raider Nation. Russell has shown no signs of getting better, and even worse, his drive and desire to get better have been called into question far too often. The Raiders need to make a decision, but if I know Al Davis, Tom Cable will be far more likely to be shown the door. My only hope is that the Raiders at least pick up a new QB who could challenge, and ultimately beat out Russell for the starting spot.
January 4th, 2010 at 7:27 pm
It’s sad because there are good players on both teams, but they just can’t do anything without getting at least a half decent performance from their QB’s. I’m not sure it can get any worse at the position for either team, but wouldn’t be shocked if somehow did…
January 5th, 2010 at 1:10 am
Two guys in Smith and Russell who’ve failed to live up to their supposed potential. And at the same time both franchises have dropped a hell of lot of money on both and have gotten nothing tangible in return to show for it all. The GM’s for the Niners and Raiders should be taken out in the midst of a square and be hung, drawn and castrated ! ‘nough said !
January 5th, 2010 at 4:36 am
I agree with everything said in this piece. Although Alex Smith may never be great, he still holds more upside than Jamarcus “The Carcass” Russell, who is dead weight behind center. And like you said, it’s all mental with him. He just doesn’t care.
Unfortunately for us (49er fans) we know deep down that Smith doesn’t have what it takes to lead us to a title 😦
January 5th, 2010 at 6:26 am
Sports Guy By
Wasn’t that the same sort of statement made about players such as Akili Smith and Ryan Leaf ? Where the hell are those guys now ?
January 5th, 2010 at 10:26 am
I don’t think either of them got as many chances as Russell or Smith, presumably because of the ridiculous amounts of money thrown at them. Nonetheless, still a good comparison.
January 5th, 2010 at 2:54 pm
I’ve never driven a Hyundai but that was then and this is now. And for the amount of many the NFL teams throw at first rounders. Why the hell don’t they just pick up a free agent veteran for half the price ? At least they’re tried and tested.
Thankfully there seems to be an upcoming agreement that’ll limit rookie salaries for incoming draftees. A sign that Goodell finally realizes the signs of financial prudency is needed amongst the teams when it comes to rookie salaries. Duh !
January 5th, 2010 at 2:57 pm
Dropped this NBA piece .
Hickory Dickory Dock The Mouse Ran Up The Clock Tick Tock Tick Tock Time Is Now Ticking In The NBA
January 6th, 2010 at 1:13 am
[…] Going Up / Going Down: Alex Smith vs. Jamarcus Russell […]
January 6th, 2010 at 12:17 pm
[…] Going Up / Going Down: Alex Smith vs. Jamarcus Russell […]
June 22nd, 2011 at 4:48 pm
Smith is better because Russell is the worst QB ever.
George Vreeland Hill