Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

23 Dec 2005

Smith's First Year Hasn't Panned Out

It's not surprising that Alex Smith is experiencing growing pains. He's a rookie, and he's playing on a 49ers team that's well on its way to earning the top draft pick for the second year in a row. Smith has yet to throw a touchdown, has double-digit interception totals, and there are rumors that his hands are too small to hold onto an official NFL football (he also has nine fumbles). If that's true, maybe San Francisco should petition the league to use Nerf balls during all its games next season.

Posted by: P. Ryan Wilson on 23 Dec 2005

53 comments, Last at 26 Dec 2005, 5:13pm by Andrew


by B (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 11:02am

I thought Tampa's rookie tight end was having a pretty good year. Ohhh, you mean that Alex Smith.

by sippican (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 11:04am

The headline was a bit understated. It was like saying:
"Maybe Lincoln shouldn't have gone to that play."

by ToxikFetus (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 11:36am

What's the difference in size between an NFL and NCAA ball? Wouldn't something like small hands be noticed during one of those fancy pre-draft workout or combine things... or do those only test how fast a person can run in a straight line for 40 yards.

by P. Ryan Wilson :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 11:47am

I think I heard Chris Mortensen say something about the NFL footballs are slicker, and therefore harder to hold on to. Or something along those lines.

by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 12:01pm

Anyone familiar with the NBA would know that the "hands are too small" excuse has been used by Kwame Brown for the past 4 years.

I suppose it's too early for the media to start using the b-word. Even though I didn't hear many people advocate not drafting him...

by Tarrant (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 12:07pm

While you didn't hear many people advocate not drafting him, I'd say you heard a LOT of people saying "TRADE DOWN, TRADE DOWN, HE'S NOT WORTH IT." Way more than said "Take him!"

But no one was crazy enough to want to trade up, so Smith is a 49er.

You know, sometime I'd like to see a team say "You know, we're not going to take that consensus #1 pick because we think he's not #1 material." Smith may have been the consensus #1 pick, but that's more because no one else stood out than anything else.


by DNL (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 12:30pm

Maybe they'll draft WRs in each of the next three years.

That'll fix it.

by Jerry P. (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 12:48pm

"Smith may have been the consensus #1 pick, but that’s more because no one else stood out than anything else."

Okay, so complete the thought and you'll realize why they couldn't trade down.

by Jerrod Sieberg (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 1:27pm

Draft wide recivers to fix the 49ers?

there is a hell of an Idea. what do you think all of out here on the west coast were crying about when we were screaming "TRADE DOWN, HE IS NOT WORTH IT!!!"

We could have gotten maybe 2-3 picks in the lower first or maybe upper second round and then gotten some true talent. I belive that Tom Brady has proven a point. Put up or Shut up. he was drafted in the sixth round because he did not impress anyone then. was not suppsoed to start that year when Bledsoe got hurt and now look at him. 3 superbowl rings and alot of endorsements to go with it.

There is just too much hype over a #1 pick when on average only 40% of them turn out to be high caliber and quality football players.

by JonL (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 1:32pm

Alex Smith may not be the answer, maybe he is, but I don't think Mike Nolan has handled this situation well at all.

Also, isn't "small hands" something that would come up in a workout?

by Catholic Samurai (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 1:41pm


What about Alex Smith told people that he would be a great QB, let alone the #1 pick last year? Also, how the hell could you not tell a guy couldn't hold the ball. Do they use special balls in the combine or is it something else?

Also, if any headline on here needed to have a picture of the "O RLY?" owl posted, this would be the #1 pick.

by dizzle (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 1:42pm

Re: 9. Comment 7 was a joke aimed at the Lions and their drafting 3 WR's (and RB) to help a hapless QB. Clearly, their draft strategy didnt work.

by Michael David Smith :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 1:48pm

Just to clarify, NCAA and NFL balls are the exact same size. There's no difference between them except cosmetics -- NCAA balls have stripes, and different conferences put their own logos on them and stuff like that.

As Ryan pointed out, the NFL forces teams to use balls that are right out of the box, while the NCAA allows teams to scuff the balls a little bit, which makes them easier to grip.

Anyway, I'm not buying the small hands argument for a second. Until someone can show me some kind of correlation between hand size and turnover propensity, I'm operating under the assumption that he's a rookie on a crappy team who ran a system in college that's nothing like the one he's running in the NFL. And I remember a lot of people saying the 49ers shouldn't take Smith. There certainly wasn't any consensus that he was the best player available.

by Pat F. (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 2:00pm

Just to follow up MDS, I recall the general consensus among the draft sites that I saw was that no one in the 2005 draft was worth the #1 pick. The best overall prospect was probably Braylon Edwards, but because of how the NFL rookie contracts work out, no one wanted to pay #1 pick money to a wide receiver. The only position that they said would be worth that sort of money was QB, so the 49ers basically figured they had to take a QB and so narrowed their choice to the top two QBs in the draft, both of whom were considered first round-worthy but not top-pick worthy.

by Tecmo Bo (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 2:03pm

Most of the draft projections had the 49ers drafting Aaron Rodgers and Smith maybe going to Tampa Bay until just a few days before the draft. So there was def no consensus. I think most gurus actually had Braylon Edwards as the best player in the draft. In any case, the Niners were looking to make a trade but no one stepped up. And apparently for good reason. I still think Smith will be a good pro QB, though that's based mostly on Utah games, as I (thankfully) haven't seen the 49ers play this season.

by Jerrod Sieberg (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 2:32pm

RE 12

Yeah, but I still do not and will not think that Alex Smith is the anwser.

they had a "decent" QB in Tim Rattay. Not All-Pro or Pro Bowl Mind you, but decent. I think they should have gone after support for around him. a good 3rd down RB, a wide reciever, or maybe even some O-Linemen.

As a side bar:
I wonder if it is possible for a team to say "NO we don't want to be #1 pick in the draft so lets just go to pick #2, have a nice day."

by Ferg (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 2:36pm

Re 16: If you don't make a pick in your allotted time, the next team gets to pick. This actually happened a couple years ago. I don't remember the details, but I think a team with a top ten pick (maybe the Vikings?) let two people pick ahead of them.

by NF (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 2:43pm

His fumbling isn't that bad. Drew Brees has had 7 fumbles, and Brunell has had 9. Bledsoe has had 12, and Kerry Collins has had 10.

by B (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 3:28pm

18: Yes, but he's only been in 7 games (5 starts) one fumble per game is Aaron Brooks territory.

by David S. (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 3:30pm

I bet you Aaron Rodgers can grip a football. I'm just saying is all.

by CA (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 4:13pm

The 2005 draft class certainly seemed to be weak at the top at the time, though we won't know for years if in fact that was the case. If somehow the 2004 and 2005 draft classes were combined, I bet that Alex Smith would have been the fourth QB off the board, behind Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger. Braylon Edwards, who some are touting in this thread as the top prospect of the 2005 draft, likely would have been rated on most boards lower than Larry Fitzgerald, Roy Williams, Reggie Williams, Lee Evans, Michael Clayton, and perhaps others at his position.

by DNL (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 4:27pm


I agree in re QBs, although I think there's something to be said for hype-driving chart risers. I think if you put Smith in with EliBenPhil, one of two things happens: (a) he climbs with Phil or (b) he looks like a second-class QB and falls like Schaub. My money is on (b). But -- I think Aaron Rodgers may have climbed.

As for WRs, Edwards would have still been a high pick.

by Jerrod Sieberg (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 5:02pm

Sometimes you have to wonder if Green Bay did not get Arron Rodgers for a steal.

Like everyone says time will tell.

Maybe Coach Nolan could trade Alex Smith for Phillip Rivers and then maybe see if was worth all that... and San Diego could get another Whiner like that guy back in the peyton Draft what was his name?

Oh yeah

Ryan Leaf

by Chris (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 5:27pm

It takes years for a QB to develop. The fact that Alex Smith also has NO help whatsoever probably isn't making things any easier for him.

by Dave (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 5:33pm

It's certainly possible; it's not at all uncommon for the second or third QB picked to be the best one in that year (see Big Ben, McNabb, and a few others, let alone late-rounders like Brady).

When the consesus #2 QB falls to the 23rd pick, and you've got an aging Hall-of-Famer QB, you've got to take him.

by big_adventure (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 5:59pm

25 - speaking as a 'phins fan, I think you have to take him even if you DON'T have an aging HOF'r. It worked once for the fins. Maybe Lienart will drop unexpectedly? :)

by NF (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 6:23pm


I think a big reason Aaron Rodgers fell to where he was taken is that he was QB at California under Jeff Tedford, who also coached Trent Dilfer, Akili Smith, David Carr, Joey Harrington and Kyle Boller.

Notice a pattern?

by Shalimar (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 6:54pm

Notice a pattern?

Yeah, Tedford seems to favor quarterbacks with prototype professional size and skills, and those QBs tend to get drafted very high in the draft by sucky teams who can't afford to be patient (excepting Boller, whose college stats were so poor that a bust was expected by everyone other than the mensa genius).

Rodgers broke that mold (at least he doesn't have the excuse of too much early pressure to produce with a bad supporting cast).

by A. Powers (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 6:56pm

I don't trust carnies. Small hands. Smell like cabbage.

by David A. (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 7:20pm

Dave Kreig, IIRC the NFL's all time Fumble King, had very small hands. I remember John Madden talking over a split screen that displayed closeups of how Kreig gripped the ball and how whoever the other QB that day gripped the ball and Kreig's hands were seriously tiny. On the other hand, as Madden05 gamers well know from listening to Tony Bruno's sound clips, Daunte Culpepper has small hands, too, which was discovered at the combine. The biggest issue with Smith, I think, is that he didn't play organized football before high school, when he was in high school he was handing off to Reggie Bush all the time, and when he was in college he ran a gimmick offense that had him in the shotgun, power sweeps, and otherwise forcing the defense's hand more than a conventional NFL offense, which requires more pre-snap reads and reactions.

by James, London (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 7:22pm

Not having seen Smith play (we saw the 49ers early, before Smith started) can somebody tell me if he is as bad as his numbers (NFL rating and DVOA/DPAR) would suggest, and if there has been any improvement in his play?

by Smeghead (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 7:56pm

30: Krieg retired as the fumble king, but Warren Moon passed him.

Poor Dave couldn't win for losing. For the NFL's illustrious fumble records, click my name: Krieg is second to someone in just about every category.

by J.S. (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 8:53pm

RE: 24

Yeah but most rookie QB's have at least one touchdown in their rookie season.

AND Alex Smith was supposed to be this intelligent player.

I would be much happier if he just threw the ball away as opposed to the other team for 10 times this year so far.

If he had played all this season you figure he would have had MORE interceptions then Brett Favre, and with alot fewer touchdowns (like 0).

That is my point and I am sticking to it

by Michael David Smith :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 9:13pm

James, in my opinion Smith is every bit as bad as the numbers say he is. He makes some really bad decisions, and the ball looks to me like it gets there pretty slowly, especially on sideline routes. At Utah he played in a spread option offense that the opposition just couldn't keep up with. But with the 49ers he looks like he's in over his head.

by Al H (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 9:16pm


From the one game I've seen of him against the Jags, he looked horrid. The deep ball was ALWAYS overthrown, never anywhere near the receiver. Even the short passes he threw way too high. It really got to the point where nobody really had to cover the receivers.

by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 9:28pm

What would happen if Orton and Smith switched places?

Sounds like everyone is saying #1 draft pick is worse than Orton... ((shiver))

by B (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 9:36pm

I think Smith running the Bears would have as much success as Orton did. Smiths DVOA is -113, where as Orton was merely -30, but I think the Bears have a better supporting cast.

by Reinhard (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 10:13pm

I havent seen him play much, but I think he moves around in the pocket and also leaves the pocket very well. He looks very athletic. His throws are nothing special... I just remember that one Brandon Lloyd catch which was very special. Anyone know which one im talking about?

by BC Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 10:18pm

does anybody think smith has potential to hang around the league at a different position if/when SF gives up on him? Perhaps we'll see a Drew Bennett-esque conversion to WR?

by NF (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 10:44pm

I take back whatever I may have said earlier. If the 49ers get the #1 draft pick, they should draft Bush, then mortgage next year's draft to give him the best offensive line possible. The principal benefit of this is ensuring that there is a steady cash flow and attendance from USC fans, and at least one aspect of the team will generate interest.

by Zac (not verified) :: Sat, 12/24/2005 - 1:08am

Re 32: Does anyone have the numbers on INTs thrown by a QB? For example, most thrown in a season or career? Does Favre have a chance to break the season record? All the information I can find is based on the defensive player / team.

by Zac (not verified) :: Sat, 12/24/2005 - 1:15am

Ya know, right after I posted, I remembered that profootballreference has raw data in a csv format available. So I found it.

George Blanda in 1962 threw 42 INTs for the Houston Oilers.
Vinny Testaverde in 1988 threw 35 INTs for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Favre has 24 in 14 games. Not even close.

by kite (not verified) :: Sat, 12/24/2005 - 2:44am

Smith fumbled a lot in college as well. In 2004, he fumbled 8 times but only lost two of them, recovering his own fumble 5 times. Those numbers were an improvement over what he did his first year, though I don't know the exact figures. He was just worse in 2003.

So small hands with a proclivity to fumbling in college that looks to have carried over to the pros, that has to be a bit troubling.

by Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Person (not verified) :: Sat, 12/24/2005 - 5:58am

Reinhard (38): I remember that catch. I think it was called back for reasons unrelated to Lloyd, then Smith throws an interception the next play. I was sitting with a 29ers fan that game ;p

by Jonramz (not verified) :: Sat, 12/24/2005 - 12:11pm

having a roommate that is a huge niners fan, and seeing how we have sunday ticket, I have been exposed to many niners games. The guy is a bust. I agree with the people who have brought up the fact that he played in a gimmick offense in college that does not translate well at all to the NFL. He is inaccurate even with simply passes that require no read, which is what should worry you most niners fans. Granted all rookie QB's struggle, and his team is especally bad, but Smith is way beyond struggling. He looks like a 4-5th round pick out there being thrown to the wolves. One guy I did like however was the rookie QB in Oakland, I think his name is Walker or something like that.

by Ryan Leaf (not verified) :: Sat, 12/24/2005 - 3:19pm

I love that guy!

by Marcus (not verified) :: Sat, 12/24/2005 - 4:49pm

Re: #44

Actually it was Cody Pickett that threw that pass, during the Giants - 49ers game. And sadly yes, it was called back due to holding.

by Moses (not verified) :: Sun, 12/25/2005 - 3:51pm

Interesting lot of speculation and comments regarding Smith the draft and trading down. Too bad most of is just regurgitated the media rumor.

First, the 49ers did have offers but chose to keep the pick because people wouldn't give up their drafts to draft Smith. You know, like Ditka did for Ricky Williams. And they certainly wanted to get more than they got when they traded down from #3 a few years ago.

Second, Smith graded out very high, higher than Kiper and some of the other media people reported. Rodgers wasn't even close, even though he was more polished; yet much of the media had Rodgers ahead based on nothing more than their opions. (You know, the same opinions that had Ernst Shazor going in Round 2 and Elton Brown going in Round 1...)

Third, the current "small hands thing" is a joke, if I remember right, he's got average hands for a QB and has larger hands than a lot of the QBs drafted this year. They may have even been among the top QBs. From what I remember, his hands are the bigger than Rodgers' (9.375) and Campbell's (9.125) hands, but under Charle Frye (9.750).

by RTiedemann6 (not verified) :: Sun, 12/25/2005 - 11:02pm

Alex Smith has been a sore subject with me. I wanted the 49ers to take Aaron Rodgers or LB Derrick Johnson from Texas. But, for Smith's credit, the last two games, he has been playing well. Mike Nolan is a bad coach and hasn't used the run game or the short passing game to help out his rookie QB at all. It doesn't help Alex that he gets sacked 15% of all times he drops back to pass. Compare that to Peyton Manning getting sack 2.9% of the time. He's constantly on the run, I think he'll shape up though.

by Rocco (not verified) :: Mon, 12/26/2005 - 12:32am

At the time, I said the 49ers should trade the pick for 70 cents on the dollar, just to avoid paying 1st overall money to a player that's not worth that kind of money. That, IMO, was the big problem with Smith- he was going to get a contract like other #1s, when he was arguably the worst #1 in the last few years according to most scouts' grades. If they could get anything worthwhile for the #1 pick, it would have been a good move. But I'm not running a team, and there's probably a good reason for that.

The other big problem- now that they have Smith, they have to stick with him and give him multiple chances to fail. I didn't think highly of him coming out of college, and I still don't.

by Moses (not verified) :: Mon, 12/26/2005 - 3:12pm

My mistake on Smith's hand size. My remembrance was wrong and I just got actual the size:

9.875 (9 & 7/8ths)

Also (hard copy not remembering, this time) some other hand sizes:

Alex Smith 9.875 (Round 1)
Charle Frye 9.750 (Round 3)
Derek Anderson 9.750 (Round 6)
David Green 9.625 (Round 3)
Dan Orlovsky 9.500 (Round 5)
Aaron Rodgers 9.375 (Round 1)
Kyle Orton 9.250 (Round 4)
Jason Campbell 9.125 (Round 1)
Adrian McPherson 9.000 (Round 5)
Stefan Lefors 8.750 (Round 4)

These are the COMBINE numbers. As you can see, Smith had the largest hands of any QB drafted this year (for which I have numbers). Also, his hands are up their with Manning, etc.

Now, if you want tiny hands, look at Rodgers & Campbell. Or Stefan Lefors who has Ricky Williams-like hands.

by Michael David Smith :: Mon, 12/26/2005 - 4:44pm

That's really interesting, Moses. Is this publicly available anywhere?

by Andrew (not verified) :: Mon, 12/26/2005 - 5:13pm

Smith is a girlie-man.

You could see it on draft day, when he had his make-up on for his photos, complete with mascara for his eyelashes.

Just look at those lashes!


Of course, he does play in San Francisco ...