Marcio Jose Sanchez-AP

Marcio Jose Sanchez-AP



I know that sounds like an ironic question and in reality many of us would likely wonder why it is even a question worth asking. However, as we are close to the eve of training camp, the idea of the comparison might be a fair one. As most of us 49ers fans will recall, going into the 2011 season there was a lot of uncertainty about Alex Smith and his future with the club. Similarly, in 2017 there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding Brian Hoyer and his future with the team. The question really is whether Brian Hoyer can resurrect his career under upgraded coaching by Shanahan and company.

Leading into the 2011 season, Alex Smith's career had been, for lack of a better term, a train wreck. Smith suffered through six different offensive coordinators and two subpar head coaches who never gave him the pieces to succeed. In 2011, the 49ers brought in Jim Harbaugh and for the first time in his career, Smith began to flourish as he thrived in a system that minimized his weaknesses and maximized his strengths. In addition, the franchise took the burden of success and spread it across a strong running game and a championship-caliber defense. In the 26 games Smith started under Harbaugh and company, he passed for 4,881 yards and 30 touchdowns. In his "injury" shortened 2012 season, during which he was replaced by Colin Kaepernick, Smith was completing 70.2-percent of his passes. While most fans can agree these numbers are not earth-shattering, a look at Alex Smith's career averages up to that point show just how he benefited from the right system and better coaching.

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Alex Smith Yrs. 1-5 (Injury Year of 2008 Omitted)
Games Attempts Completions Percentage Avg. TD Avg. Int. Avg. Yds.
54 1,514 864 55.56% 10.2 10.6 1,879.80

Enter: Brian Hoyer, and while his career hasn't been as stable as Alex Smith's, he has had a similar path in the NFL in terms of ups and downs. While Hoyer has been mostly a backup in the league, his 2014 season in Cleveland notwithstanding, there are a lot of similarities between his past five years and Smith's first five years. While the 2014 Cleveland Browns didn't make a ton of noise in the league, it was also the last time they won more than three games, as Hoyer led the team to a 7-6 record as a starter and threw for 3,326 yards under Kyle Shanahan's watch. Looking at the last five seasons in which Hoyer has played, his career stats are actually quite similar to Smith's.

Brian Hoyer Yrs. 2012-2016
Games Attempts Completions Percentage Avg. TD Avg. Int. Avg. Yds.
36 1,156 687 59.80% 8.6 5 1,664.40

While the sample size is admittedly smaller than Smith's, Hoyer has a better completion percentage and TD/INT ratio than Smith did to start his career.

Further evidence proves that Alex Smith has benefited from better coaching and an improved system since his trade to Kansas City. Since his trade following the 2012 season, Smith has played at least 15 games and thrown for at least 3,200 yards and 15 touchdowns each year. He has yet to throw double-digit interceptions in any of his seasons in Kansas City and has averaged a completion percentage of 64.9%. Bolstered by Kansas City's defensive help, Smith and the Chiefs have made the playoffs three times and won their first playoff game in 22 seasons following the 2015 season. In Smith's three playoff losses in Kansas City the margin of defeat is only nine points.

The similarities don't end with just the stats as Hoyer's situation is nearly the same as Smith's in 2011. The 49ers had invested heavily in defense in the years leading up to Harbaugh's hiring and it paid off in 2011, allowing for Smith to not have to shoulder the load for the team. The 49ers have invested heavily in defense over the past three offseasons and while not all of the picks and signings are surefire, there are some gems who could shine if polished right. The 49ers have a strong chance of being a top-20 defense this year, if not higher, if the new scheme works. If Shanahan can use Brian Hoyer much like Harbaugh used Smith during the 2011 season, there could be some bright spots for the 49ers. All signs point towards the 49ers doing just that with a powerful running game and a passing game that takes shots based on the running game's success.

Do the 49ers and their fans really think that Hoyer is the long term answer? I don't think so, but if he can turn into a better-than-average quarterback for the next two years the 49ers can determine if the quarterback of the future is on the team or if more work needs to be done in the draft or free agency. While Smith-like numbers and success can be heartbreaking for fans, as it appears he won't ever be able to get a team over the hump to a championship, winning during the season makes for a more watchable product. And that is something that a lot of fans can probably get behind, at least in the short-term.