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So You Wanted Rodgers in 2005? Get Off Your High Horse

Nov 17, 2009 at 8:30 PM

Alex Smith versus Aaron Rodgers - the 2005 draft replayed on the field for the first time with both QBs as the teams' respective starters. It's a great time for any 49er fan who wanted to draft Rodgers to yell a big "I TOLD YOU SO" to anyone who supported the Smith choice.

A quick look at the numbers is all anyone needs to prove their point that Rodgers is clearly a superior quarterback. In 2008, after taking over the full-time role from Brett Favre, Rodgers posted an impressive 93.8 QB rating. He threw for 28 touchdowns, nearly twice as many as Smith's highest total from 2006 (16). In Rodgers first full year, he threw for over 4,000 yards. Smith has yet to break 3,000 yards in a season, or even 300 yards in one game. (For the record, Rodgers has six 300-yard games in 25 games.)

There is one major caveat to all of this: Context. The book on Smith coming out of Utah was that of a promising, young athletic quarterback who had some issues with his mechanics, but had a high ceiling. While Rodgers was the more NFL-ready quarterback, despite looking robotic in his delivery. Smith was the project, Rodgers was more plug and play and yet, the 49ers waited just 5 games before submitting Smith to the NFL-wolves.

While Smith was enduring the growing pains that any young quarterback will endure, Aaron Rodgers was riding the pine behind perhaps the best quarterback in a generation. Rodgers absorbed and learned how to play quarterback at the NFL level from Brett Favre, a man that - at age 40 - can still throw a dart through the heart of opposing defenses. Alex Smith had 5 weeks to learn the NFL from Tim Rattay, a quarterback who peaked in week 9 of the 2003 NFL season with a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Many quarterbacks survive in the NFL without an adequate role model. Joe Montana had Steve DeBerg. Peyton Manning had Mike Quinn and Kelly Holcomb. Both of the preceding quarterbacks also existed under one offensive system, illustrating the importance of continuity. Rodgers has only ever had to learn the West Coast offense, first under MIke Sherman, then under Mike McCarthy. That's like driving a Ferrari after learning on a Porsche. Alex Smith has never had an offensive coordinator for more than one season since college. And he had to make the switch from McCarthy's West Coast offense to the Coryell number system in 2005. That's like driving a Ferrari, then switching to a Ducatti while learning to switch-hit. Between different terminology, systems, coaching styles, and formations Smith has never had time to learn anything but the surface of an offensive system.

So let's say we throw out the system changes and the time spent maturing on the sidelines. Rodgers still has a more talented roster in Green Bay than Smith has with the 49ers. With Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, Green Bay has a strong set of starting wide receivers. In other words, Rodgers has receivers better than Brandon Lloyd to throw to. Green Bay also has a strong running game, with Ryan Grant leading the charge. While the team is only averaging 77 yards per game, they are ranked 8th in the Football Outsiders DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) rankings. The rankings take note of how much more effective a given play is based on the average gain in similar situations league wide. More can be found here.

When you take these three factors, time, continuity, mentors and talent, it's easy to see that Rodgers was drafted to a team with a favorable situation for a quarterback that needed some developing. If you put Rodgers on the 49ers in 2005 and ask him to carry the team he would fail, just as Alex Smith has. If you took away Rodgers receivers and asked him to win games he would not win as many. If you changed systems on Rodgers every year he would not look as polished as he does now.

Everyone who says that Nolan and McCloughan missed by drafting Smith first overall miss the critical component to everything: context. The fact is Rodgers may or may not have been a better quarterback on April 23rd, 2005. He is a better quarterback now not because of the player he was in 2005. Rodgers is a better quarterback now because he was drafted to Green Bay and not San Francisco.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • steven
    I have to disagree with you when you said, " And if Rodgers were drafted to the 49ers he would be in the same place as Smith in 2009: Underachieving behind a porous offensive line with little experience at the wide receiver spot hoping to run behind a line that can't seem to gain an inch when it needs it. Put Rodgers, in year one, on the 49ers and he would be as terrible as Smith has been up until now." This isn't true, we will never know. I like Alex and think he could be a good starter. Rodgers would have been a better fit for this team back then because he was more ready to play in the NFL than Alex. Alex needed to be the same situation as Rodgers was because Alex needed to work on so many things. The mistake was the 49ers not keep Garcia for two-three years and left Alex learn from him like Rodgers learned from Favre. The 49ers made big mistakes with Alex. I just think Rodgers would have been a better fit back then for this team because of the overall situation. If Alex could have sat for a while, I would have picked Alex over Rodgers.
    Nov 18, 2009 at 7:40 PM
    Response: I agree with you - the 49ers made a huge error in not keeping Garcia. But you contradict yourself when you say "we will never know" if Rodgers would be just as bad as Smith but you seemingly do know that Rodgers would have been more successful. I can fully admit that we are playing in the world of hypothetical here, but if you are going to claim we can't know Rodgers would be bad, you also cannot claim that you know Rodgers would have been better in 2005.
  • Paul
    Oscar, The choosing of A. Smith over Rodgers in 2005 was a bad decision pure and simple. In 2005 Rodgers was the more polished QB. He was a player schooled in the NFL style of play, he was ready to go. A. Smith was non of those things. He was ,as you, stated a project. Today it is even more clear cut, Rodgers is the better QB. It is very interesting to play what ifs. But non of that changes the reality that we have to deal with day by day. It is 2009 and we are still looking for that "Special" QB to lead this team to the championship level.
    Nov 18, 2009 at 3:04 PM
    Response: Whether or not Rodgers was the better QB in 2005 is irrelevant. Even if Rodgers was a better QB, he would be in the same position as Smith is now had he been drafted by the 49ers. The shuffling coordinators, the lack of talent and not having a proper mentor all hurt Smith and would have hurt Rodgers equally.
  • Sean
    Will you still be making these excuses for Alex when he is out of football in 5 years and Aaron Rodgers has multiple pro bowls? Not everyone is drafted into the perfect situation, but the good ones prevail. Alex obviously lacks it.
    Nov 18, 2009 at 11:24 AM
    Response: And if Rodgers were drafted to the 49ers he would be in the same place as Smith in 2009: Underachieving behind a porous offensive line with little experience at the wide receiver spot hoping to run behind a line that can't seem to gain an inch when it needs it. Put Rodgers, in year one, on the 49ers and he would be as terrible as Smith has been up until now.
  • Dan
    Alex has to light it up to put all this comparison to rest. What better place to do it than Lambeau? He will improve prior to the end of the regular season and Mc/Sing need to name him the starter for next year. No quarterback competition. Smith needs to be shown the utmost confidence. I don't think they can use picks in the next draft for a quarterback. There are other needs that high draft picks must be used for. They have to rely on what Alex can offer and groom Davis to step in if required. The good thing is I do not think Alex is too far away from being a top level quarteback. Everything happens for a reason. Alex has had 4 years of adversity to overcome and learn from. If they keep consistency in the system it will happen. Urban Meyer's quote on Alex? Familiarity will breed excellence! Rodgers' situation is proof that consistency leads to good play.
    Nov 18, 2009 at 6:39 AM
    Response: Smith needs more than one game in order to quell the critics. He needs a full season finishing with a QB rating over 90. I don't know that he has that in him until next season.
  • DieHard
    You put it perfectly. I think now that Alex Smith has some talent around him in Crabtree, Davis, Gore and Morgan we'll start to see some real improvement from him. The 49ers may not make the playoffs, but by the end of the season it will be clear that we have the makings of a very good offense. They just need time to gel in the system, even if that system is rather vanilla. They address the O-line during the offseason and come back strong with Hill as the backup and Davis as the insurance policy.
    Nov 17, 2009 at 9:41 PM
    Response: I think Smith will prove he has the makings of a decent quarterback over the rest of the season. I doubt, though, that he will play well enough to put enough confidence in the team to pass on a quarterback. I think the 49ers still draft a QB in the second round.
  • pelos21
    Good Read
    Nov 17, 2009 at 9:27 PM

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