Jim Harbaugh earned Pro Bowl honors once during his playing career. That was in 1995, when he helped the Indianapolis Colts advance to the AFC Championship Game.
Sixteen years later, as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, Harbaugh made headlines by promoting his quarterback, Alex Smith, as worthy of Pro Bowl acclaim. The chart suggests that Smith should receive Pro Bowl consideration -- relative to 1995 quarterbacks, anyway.
Times have changed. Quarterbacks are putting up bigger numbers. Still, in looking at the chart, it's easier to see why Harbaugh thinks Smith has Pro Bowl credentials.
Harbaugh led the NFL in yards per attempt and NFL passer rating during his Pro Bowl season. He was fourth in completion percentage. The rest of his numbers lined up very closely to the ones Smith has produced in one fewer game (Harbaugh started 12 of 16 games for the Colts in 1995).
Smith's numbers do not measure up to those for the typical Pro Bowl quarterbacks in this era. Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and many others in the NFC have been far more productive statistically. Harbaugh has called raw numbers low-hanging fruit in evaluating quarterbacks. We've attempted to reach higher, with similar results.
"Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Alex Smith -- I think those are the top three in the NFC," Harbaugh said (see video).
Winning is the common thread linking those quarterbacks. Their teams have the best records in the NFC.
The NFL announces Pro Bowl teams Dec. 27.