Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith is no stranger to criticism. Since his selection as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, his career has been filled with highs and lows, and people picking apart what he can’t do rather than what he can.
But for the second year in a row, Smith has been recognized on NFL Network’s top 100 list, which is voted on by players.
Smith checked in at the same spot as in 2016: No. 81. NFL Network releases the list in groups of 20 each week. The next one will come out Monday, May 8.
“You look at what the Chiefs did before he got there, and what they’ve done before he got there, I mean, come on,” former teammate Chase Daniel said. “It’s 10 wins a year and the guy is getting some grief on one playoff game. It’s unbelievable.”
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Indeed, Smith has taken most of the criticism following the Chiefs’ disappointing 18-16 playoff loss to Pittsburgh, which beat the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium without scoring an offensive touchdown.
Smith completed 20 of 34 passes in that game for 172 yards, a touchdown and an interception. At this year’s Pro Bowl, he admitted there were some missed shots in that game he wished he’d thrown, and now, three months later, Chiefs fans have been riled up by the team’s decision to move up in the draft and select a raw-but-talented quarterback from Texas Tech, Patrick Mahomes II.
But the Chiefs’ brass has consistently cited Smith’s advancing age (he turns 33 on May 7) as the decision behind the Mahomes move, not Smith’s play. So Mahomes’ chances of unseating Smith this year appear to be slim.
Besides, general manager John Dorsey, coach Andy Reid and chairman Clark Hunt all have endorsed Smith as the starter over the last several months, and with the Chiefs having significant motivation to win in 2017 — they don’t have their first-round pick in 2018 after the trade to draft Mahomes — Smith’s job appears safe, especially when you consider his win-loss record.
Over the last four seasons, Smith — who arrived from San Francisco in 2013 for two second-round picks — is 41-20 as the Chiefs’ starter. Since the time of that trade, the 49ers are 27-37.
In 2016, Smith completed 328 of 489 passes for 3,502 yards, 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions while leading the Chiefs to a 12-4 record. He also rushed 48 times for 134 yards and five touchdowns, and again displayed a knack for protecting the football, which was cited often during the top 100 show as a reason for his inclusion.
“They call him a game manager, but he’s not,” Indianapolis Colts cornerback Charles James III said. “He just doesn’t make any mistakes.
“You can’t go out there and say ‘Yeah, I’m not going to make any mistakes today,’ ” James continued, in a mock pundit voice. “No, you have to just go out there and be the type of quarterback to go out there and make those plays, make those throws, not turn the ball over. Quarterbacks turn the ball over everyday and it’s like ‘Yeah, I just threw my 18th pick. Who cares?’ ”
Daniel agreed, adding Smith’s ability to avoid interceptions is a terrific trait.
“In this league, you cannot turn the ball over as a quarterback, and he just doesn’t,” Daniel said. “I think he’s guarded with some of his decisions, and I think it’s boded well for him.”
Daniel was asked the biggest misconception about Smith.
“That he doesn’t like to take chances, that he doesn’t like to take shots,” Daniel said. “People say ‘Oh, he can’t throw the ball downfield.’ Well, you see some of these Tyreek Hill throws, these Jeremy Maclin throws this year, and he was stretching the field.”
Nine Chiefs made last year’s list, including outside linebacker Justin Houston (No. 26), safety Eric Berry (No. 55), cornerback Marcus Peters (No. 65), inside linebacker Derrick Johnson (No. 80), outside linebacker Tamba Hali (No. 84), tight end Travis Kelce (No. 91), receiver Jeremy Maclin (No. 93) and, of course, Smith, who remains as divisive as ever.
“Yes, he’s a high-level quarterback, only because he knows how to manage the ball,” New York Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins said. “He’s not going to turn the ball over a lot. He’s not going to make risky throws.
“I just feel like Alex Smith is just like, the guy you want to manage your game the first through the fourth quarter if you’re up. He comes through sometimes.”