The Maneater

Alex Smith is playing the most efficient football of his career

Through five games, Smith is proving he’s a viable MVP candidate.

Courtesy of Zimbio

In 2016, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan took a leap in his performance and led the league’s highest-scoring offense from under center.

He also finished in the top three in completion percentage, passing yards and passing touchdowns, which earned him AP Offensive Player of the Year honors and the league MVP award. He was also part of a Falcons squad that made its first Super Bowl appearance in 11 years.

Many debated if this solidified Ryan as one of the league’s premier quarterbacks, but the bigger question was who may have the Matt Ryan-esque jump season come 2017. This year’s Matt Ryan may be the 13-year veteran at the helm of Kansas City’s top-tier offense, Alex Smith.

Through five games, Smith currently leads the league in passer rating, completion percentage and yards per passing attempt. He’s also on pace to throw for 4,451 yards and 35 touchdowns, all while helping the Chiefs lead the league in yards per play and second in scoring. Smith is making a serious case for this year’s MVP.

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(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

What’s even more impressive is Smith’s ability to do this 13 years into his career, showing a substantial difference in play this year compared to years past. He’s playing the most efficient football of his career.

Efficiency through the air

Alex Smith’s completion percentage through five games (76.6 percent) not only leads the league but is 5 percent higher than any other quarterback.

Smith, who’s been the arm in Andy Reid’s West Coast offense for the last five seasons, isn’t getting a high completion percentage in typical West Coast fashion, however, his yards per pass attempt (8.8) also lead the league.

This means the 5-yard slants and 3-yard screens aren’t all Smith’s been throwing this year. In fact, he’s tied for 12th-most throws of 20 yards or more (14) this season and tied for ninth in throws of 40 or more (three).

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(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

On average, Smith throws 37 passes of 20 yards or more in a season. His 17 completions of 20 yards or more so far put him on pace to throw 54 this year. He’s also been pretty efficient when going deep. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith’s quarterback rating on deep balls is 142.0. That’s 9.4 points higher than Tom Brady’s and 27.6 points higher than Drew Brees’.

Smith’s also scoring at both a high and efficient rate, currently holding a 7.0 touchdown passes percentage, the second best in the league.

Balanced mobility with smart play

Smith’s arm has undoubtedly been exceptional to this point, but another area of importance for him is his ability to move.

A lot of people don’t realize that Smith is one of the better rushing quarterbacks in the league. He’s currently fourth on the list of active quarterbacks with most career rushing yards.

In 2016, Smith rushed for only 134 yards. It was the first time he hadn’t rushed for over 200 yards since his final season in San Francisco. Smith’s already rushed for 108 yards this season, putting him on pace to finish with 346.

While Smith’s mobility is a nice bonus for Kansas City’s running game, that’s not necessarily where it pays the most dividends.

Of the Chiefs’ 191 designed pass plays from scrimmage this season, Smith has left the pocket on 41 of them. While Smith has scrambled for positive yardage 24.4 percent of those times, what he’s usually doing is extending pass plays and buying himself time to throw. Watch the play below:

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Smith’s ability to extend the play here comes with a big reward. After dropping back, Smith senses pressure from Houston nose tackle D.J. Reader. There’s a lot Smith could do here, but instead of throwing the ball away or taking off running, he rolls out to the left and finds Charcandrick West for a touchdown. Two of Smith’s 11 touchdown passes have been thrown after escaping the pocket.

It’s plays like these that attest to the efficiency and maximization of not only Smith’s production, but the Kansas City offense.

Playing from behind

The cherry on top of Smith’s five-game performance has been his numbers when Kansas City is trailing opponents. To this point, he has 551 passing yards, a completion percentage of 80.7 percent and a quarterback rating of 136.2 when his team is trailing.

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(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

All three of those totals are higher than when the Chiefs are either tied or leading opponents. They’re also all higher than the league average in those situations.

He’s also scored five of his 11 touchdowns and gotten 34 of his 79 first downs while trailing.

If there was ever a way to statistically gauge “clutchness,” this is as close as it gets, and it shows Smith is playing well where it counts the most.

Ultimately, Smith is not just playing clutch football; he’s playing it to the highest level he’s ever played. It’s a season unlike any other for Smith and if it keeps trending in the same direction, it could lead to much more success in every aspect for both him and the Chiefs.

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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