Is it too late for Alex Smith? Not quite

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We’ve seen this before haven’t we? Big time college quarterback, expected to be the next big thing in the NFL and then he takes the first exit off the road to success. We’ve seen all the names.

Akili Smith. Ryan Leaf.

Is it too early to add Alex Smith’s name to this list of draft busts? Probably, but it’s looking like his career is heading more in that direction than towards a successful career like other high picks, such as Eli or Peyton Manning.

His stats tell the story. So far he’s thrown 19 touchdowns and 31 INTs.  To give the man a little credit, his numbers are probably skewed by a 49ers team that has been 16-32 in that same span. Smith hasn’t started all those games, he’s actually only played in 32 of the 48 since he was drafted.

In 2006 it seemed like he had finally become the quarterback San Francisco coveted. After a mistake plagued rookie season (1 TD, 11 INTs), Smith bounced back in 2007 with a decent second season. He threw 16 TDs and 16 INTs, and for the only time in his career he started every game for the 49ers.

In his third season, 2007, he struggled again in the seven games he played. Smith threw just 2 TDs and 4 INTs, making San Francisco question their number one overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.

On Sunday 49ers head coach Mike Nolan had all but praise for Smith.

“Alex is very athletic, and has the strongest arm probably of all the guys,” Nolan said. “He’s really intelligent. He’s got a lot of good qualities. Those, I count on all the time. Now, he has to put together four quarters with the group and move the ball consistently and make plays he should make.”

Nolan’s statement is basically just a repeat of what I just said. Smith has the attributes to play in the NFL, but he hasn’t been able to take his skills and apply them on the field.

The 49ers have been patient, and I applaud them for that. Most NFL players have one or two years to prove they belong and if they don’t then they are pushed aside. Sometimes it is way too early into their development for that, but the 49ers haven’t done that. They pushed Smith right into starting his rookie season, usually a bad choice for a team when attempting to let a rookie QB develop, but they didn’t really have a choice. One thing is for sure, if Smith isn’t the answer then he will certainly have had the chance to play himself out of the NFL in San Francisco.

And every chance to prove he belongs.

The 49ers don’t need Smith to throw 50 TDs passes like Tom Brady did last year. They’ve got a fantastic young running back, Frank Gore, and a lot of young talent to build around their young quarterback. They just need him to limit mistakes, make plays when needed, and not force the issue.

Will he? From what I’ve seen Alex makes some great plays, but not many. His mistakes are all you ever see when watching San Francisco highlights, but again that’s mainly due to the .333 winning percentage the 49ers have had since he was drafted.

San Francisco hopes that he develops this year. If not they will be looking at drafting another rookie quarterback and hoping they win the lottery this time around. Drafting rookie quarterbacks is kind of like trying to find the needle in the haystack.

The 49ers just hope Smith is their needle. Or at least their quarterback.