Straight out of the Rabbit’s Hole: Could it be that the 49ers made the right decision on April 23, 2005?

Diego Del Barco
Jan 16, 2012 at 12:31 PM

Disclaimer: This isn't an attempt to argue Alex Smith is a better player than Aaron Rodgers.

What I'm asking myself as I write this is the following: what if Aaron Rodgers had been selected #1 overall by the San Francisco 49ers back on April 23, 2005? What if Rodgers had been plugged into the starting lineup in week five of his rookie season against the pass-rushing duo of Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney? What if Rocky Bernard's 308-pound frame had sacked him on September 30, 2007, just seconds after snapping the ball, and separated his shoulder? What if Mike Nolan had thrown him under the bus? What if Rodgers had gotten a different offensive coordinator every year? What if Rodgers' career had been as unbelievably mishandled as Smith's coming into this season?

I guess my question is: would Aaron Rodgers still be here? It's hard to say.

It takes a unique human being, an incredible personality, and unfathomable work ethic to fight through everything Smith has battled through in order to achieve what he has done this season. Take a pay cut in 2009 to come back to a team with Jimmy Raye as the offensive coordinator? Why not? Then a year ago, after yet another season of up-and-downs with this franchise, Smith seemed destined to finally start over elsewhere, yet Jim Harbaugh gave him hope that his goal was still attainable: turn his career around with the same team he had struggled with so much.

Who in their right mind does that? Jay Cutler looked for a way out of the Broncos in 2009 as soon as he heard he was being included in trade talks. Even before draft day in 2004, Eli Manning, the consensus number one overall pick, refused to play for the Chargers, the team atop the draft order that year . Most recently, we have seen NBA players such as Chris Paul force his way out of his original team and Dwight Howard seems to be destined for that same route. Smith's career approach is rare and remarkable, and at this point the best story kept secret in the NFL.

So again I ask: what if Aaron Rodgers had been the first name called that spring day at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center? I can't help but think he would have been gone after the 2008 season, and would be a success by now with some other team.

And where would the 49ers be at that point? Who would they have benched Shaun Hill for on October 25, 2009 against the Texans? Nate Davis? What about last season, would the 49ers have been able to bring a better QB than David Carr? Or would they have ridden the Troy Smith Trolley? And even this season – would Colin Kaepernick have been able to lead the 49ers to where they are right now? The sample size on him is minimal, but it's hard to believe we would be here today.

I didn't think I could ever say this, but maybe, just maybe, the 49ers lucked out selecting Alex Smith with the 1st overall pick in 2005. Otherwise, with the way they handled a young quarterback's career for the following six seasons, the 49ers would have waited a lot longer to be back in the playoffs.


Last offseason I graded Smith's career with the 49ers with a "C-". I think it's time to review that grade, don't you? What grade would you give him now, at this point, regardless of the outcome of next week's game?

Let me know either here or through twitter
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.


  • apl ninerman
    I think u do in the game, what u do in practice. On that note it is hard to grade Alex at this time due mainly to the run heavy offenses he's had to endure through. With thee exception of what Norv Turner presented as oc of the niners. However my grade would have to be A at this point because Alex has endured 8 systems n 7 seasons when it takes at least two years to fully grasp one; we are just now adding the hardware around him to even be judged as an NFL qb.
    Jan 18, 2012 at 4:19 PM
  • Brew
    Great read as always Rabbit. It looks like this really is the year where he turned the corner. I'd like to see him in more no huddle offenses to see how could fare against the Bradys and Rodgers and Brees'. Until then i'm damn happy he's our QB.
    Jan 16, 2012 at 8:38 PM
    Response: Well Brew, he did just fare just fine against Brees ... no need to turn him into that kind of QB when he seems to do be doing just fine the way he plays
  • overthemiddle
    I have supported Smith from draft day on. I have to agree that his development was stunted due to various reasons. Smith is tough in the mind. Character prevails in big time games. I was not at all surprised by Alexs performance against the Saints. I do not feel Alex is an elite quaterback but he is now a good quaterback. I give Alex a B- on his career so far. He still has a ways to go before that A grade.
    Jan 16, 2012 at 6:41 PM
    Response: love seeing different arguments for Alex's grade
  • Jerret
    I give Smith an A-. The minus only because of past struggles. Not his fault. I posted a comment around week 4 when 9ers fans were skeptical of our first season under Harbaugh. I kept hearing, when will we open the offense? When will Alex Smith take control? I stated, like Bill Walsh, Harbaugh is the captian and he will open the sails when he is ready. Just believe! Look now. Look up the 1981 49ers. Joe Montana, the defense. It's almost scary. Smith has been better than Montana..... 6 comebacks, 5 INT'S all season. That's amazing. Best of all, the new Bill is his biggest supporter. Harbaugh found his Montana.. Alex Smith. Embrace it.
    Jan 16, 2012 at 6:28 PM
  • AJ Bolino
    I'd say Smith has earned a B with room to improve to an A. Week over week, he seems to unleash a new facet to his game. His heroics Saturday will be remembered for years. Great read, amigo.
    Jan 16, 2012 at 6:22 PM
  • Marc B
    I'd say he's elevated to a B at this point. I think his play this year has been much better than at any other point in his career thus far. So if he was a C before this year, then a B is more than reasonable. His accuracy is much improved this year, and I think he had his first sack-fumble of the year on Saturday, so he's done really well with taking care of the football. He hasn't wilted in big game moments- 6 fourth quarter comeback wins this year, game-winning plays. With the offseason to work with the offensive squad more in the system, and draft/free agency to get another offensive weapon or two, I think the sky is the limit for what he can accomplish.
    Jan 16, 2012 at 4:49 PM
    Response: I give this comment an "A" grade
  • ClearwaterJim
    Great read. We'll never know the answers to most of these questions, but we do know that Alex is one of Harbaughs Mighty Men. Coach has, and values, character and work ethic.
    Jan 16, 2012 at 4:05 PM
  • J.R. Krikorian
    Justin S....couldn't have said it better myself. Living in San Diego, I had the opportunity to watch Smith and Bush play HS football together. He excelled in college and his college coach, an offenses Guru by nature, told us to give him time. As a former JuCo QB and can only imagine what it would be like to have two knucklehead defense minded coaches and 7 coordinators in 7 years. I always did think he had the potential. As it relates to Green Bay, I was actually hoping we'd play them. Everything you stated below was being ignored by everyone from Wisconsin further East to conneticut and ESPN. The recievers are older, no o-line and lousy pass protection get you what they got Sunday. Beatin by the better, more aggressive, mistake free fundamentaly sound team. The G-men will be a handful. But I know the 49ers are up to the task. Aaron will live on. It's the issues they need to consider.
    Jan 16, 2012 at 3:13 PM
  • Bojangles
    God Bless you Diego but this is "Straight Out Of The Jackass's Hole". Rogers would be our QB and McCarthy would have been promoted from OC to Head Coach. No more Nolan, No More Singleberry = Superbowl.
    Jan 16, 2012 at 2:58 PM
    Response: 1) I lol'd. 2) Little more difficult to assume McCarthy wouldn't have taken the HC gig in Green Bay
  • Matt
    If SF wins the Superbowl you have to give him an A for his career regardless of his previous disappointments. A championship trumps all. SF would not be where they are now, but for Alex Smith. You could make the case that Rogers, Brees, Brady or Manning might have been able to bring this team to this point, but it is clear that a lesser QB could not have.
    Jan 16, 2012 at 2:49 PM
    Response: would be hard not to give him an A if he wins the SuperBowl, but what about TODAY? What is his grade?
  • justin s
    joseph k. so according to your theory(which is completely incorrect) alex smith doesnt deserve his teammates based on the drops that they have had this year? no, the green bay packers have the deepest wr core in the NFL. all the media and analysts talked about teams coming to lambeau and having trouble with the cold. turns out the packers had the trouble. every wr on that team would be a starter on any other team. rodgers was flustered, he missed multiple targets that were open trying to force passes. the giants were opportunistic in their takeaways and the packers could not establish the run, or stop eli, their wrs, or running game. their defense has been suspect all year. the packers lost to a better team, and they would have lost to the niners if they played them. 15-1, only playing 5 teams with a winning record, 2 that were against the lions, almost lost to them and almost lost to the giants in the last game. rodgers and his recievers were great this year, not playing against top defenses. they were exposed when they played good defenses, and couldnt handle the pressure when they did.
    Jan 16, 2012 at 1:46 PM
    Response: so, no word on my actual piece?
  • jet22
    The questions posed are very legitimate. And as much as I preferred Rodgers to Smith, I was resigned to the selection made at the time. After that I was hoping Smith became a decent qb. His foibles under pressure were too common to ignore.He also showed flashes of brilliance under Norv Turner but utter disarray under Singletary. But being smart and a good guy convinced me to await results of Harbaugh's experiment. In fact I was not discouraged when he missed certain throws. I just hoped he made the next one. God helps those who help themselves and God is on his side because he hepls himself.
    Jan 16, 2012 at 1:19 PM
    Response: Preach on
  • Joseph K Snead
    My comment has not much to do with my favorite team, the 49ers. Just a comment on the Green Bay / New York game the other day: I thought A. Rodgers played a great game. His teammates don't deserve him. And, I believe his Packers would have gone home with the win, had he gotten any support from his over-paid faltering (WRs and O-line) teammates. He put his passes right in his receivers' hands several times, only to have them drop the ball. He was running for his life half the afternoon as his O-line failed to block. Not even Joe M. or Dan M. could have won that one, with such a weak supporting cast. The close-up camera shots of his expressions of disbelief after the WR drops were priceless. Better luck next year, after some offseason WR and O line changes. Joseph K
    Jan 16, 2012 at 1:16 PM
    Response: hard to say his teammates don't deserve him when just a season ago they all won a super bowl together. Also hard to say they would had won if the WR's and OL had had a better game, that defense still couldn't stop the Giants, never mind the fact that Rodgers had a fumble himself on a play where displayed minimal if any pocket-awareness.
  • Johnny
    Lots of great questions. I was screaming at the TV on draft day 2005 RODGERS! RODGERS! RODGERS! I was angry that we picked Smith and I was upset for the next 6 years. Even with the terrible handling of his career by the organization, Alex still progressed slowly. There was 5 yard passes he would miss by a mile and those types of things have nothing to do with coaching. I commend the man for sticking through everything and fighting to become a good QB. im halpy for the team and happy for the fans but Im most happy for Alex Smith. He deserves this attention now and hes playing like a legit NFL QB.
    Jan 16, 2012 at 12:45 PM

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