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