Jaws' QB Countdown: Alex Smith

We already knew the San Francisco 49ers' Alex Smith would stand as Ron Jaworski's highest-ranked quarterback from the NFC West.

We did not know how high Smith would rank, or what Jaworski would say about him in his ongoing "Countdown" segments for "SportsCenter."

2012 Jaws' QB Countdown

Now we know.

Smith ranks 16th, ahead of Sam Bradford and two of the NFC West quarterbacks still fighting to win a starting job. The No. 27 ranking for Matt Flynn qualifies as the most provisional one of the four simply because he has played so little.

Smith ranked two spots higher than NFC West alum Matt Hasselbeck.

Some thoughts from Jaworski, courtesy of ESPN's Allison Stoneberg:

"Two statistics speak to Smith’s play in 2011. He threw the fewest passes of any 16-game starter, and he had the lowest interception percentage in the National Football League. Smith was managed brilliantly by first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh perfectly understood his quarterback's strengths and limitations.

"The majority of Smith's 20-plus-yard completions came on first down, primarily out of base personnel. Play-action was also utilized. The 49ers got a lot of single-high safety coverages. That defined the reads for Smith. Here [refers to video highlight], he initially looked left; he saw the safety match up to Vernon Davis. He knew he had Michael Crabtree man-to-man on the crosser. The shot plays also came on first-and-10; the result of great design, attacking and breaking down anticipated coverages. Again, it was single high. When the safety jumped the crossing route, Smith hit Crabtree over the top. The wheel route was featured in the 49ers pass game. That played to Smith's passing strengths. He throws with excellent touch and consistent accuracy.

"I was really impressed with Smith in the playoff win against the Saints. He read the blitz, he was decisive and accurate. He pulled the trigger on the tight-window throws. The winning touchdown showed his development as a quarterback. Davis was in the tight slot. Smith's throw had to beat the deep safety to that side. You have to throw it early with great anticipation.

"Right here [more video], Smith began his delivery. That is as good as it gets, folks. The throw made this touchdown. You know what offensive coaches always emphasize? Run the offense the way it is structured and designed. Alex Smith did that with great efficiency. He's not the most physically gifted and talented thrower in the league, but he played at a very high level in 2011, and I expect the same in 2012."

I suspect Harbaugh and Smith can live with that assessment relative to so many others. Jaworski did mention Smith's limitations early. He did credit Harbaugh for "managing" Smith. Those types of comments diminish Smith; Smith and Harbaugh have appeared sensitive to those types of characterizations.

But Jaworski also hailed Smith for his touch and consistent accuracy. He said he expected Smith to continue producing at a high level. If that happens, the already shrinking references to "limitations" and "managing" might disappear from the analyses altogether.