Inside Slant: Alex Smith vs. Matt Cassel

Alex Smith, Tom Brady and the NFL scouting combine played starring roles in the Inside Slant podcast Wednesday.

2008-2012 Cassel vs. Smith

Smith's unofficial trade from San Francisco to Kansas City invited comparisons between Smith and recent Chiefs starting quarterback Matt Cassel. Smith was much better than Cassel during the 2012 season. He has much better traditional passing stats over the past two seasons. But as the chart shows, Cassel and Smith have identical Total QBR scores over the past five years. They were at 46.6. All starting quarterbacks were at 53.0 over that period.

Cassel was slightly ahead of Smith, 46.4 to 45.8, when only starts were considered.

Smith's replacement in San Francisco, Colin Kaepernick, ranks second to Peyton Manning at 77.8 among starting quarterbacks with at least seven starts since 2008. Aaron Rodgers is third, Tom Brady fourth and Drew Brees fifth.

The 49ers felt good enough about Kaepernick after seven regular-season starts and three playoff games to make the move away from Smith permanent. They're reportedly getting the Chiefs' 2013 second-round draft choice and a 2014 pick as compensation. That's a very good deal for the 49ers, in my view. They wanted Smith off their roster before he received a bonus of $1 million on April 1, at which point his $7.5 million salary would have become guaranteed.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, weren't targeting the Smith who struggled with injuries and constant coordinator turnover years ago. They hope they're getting the Smith who ranked among the NFL's better quarterbacks recently, especially last season.

2012 Cassel vs. Smith

The second chart shows why Smith could be appealing as an alternative to Cassel. He led the NFL in completion percentage (70.2), ranked seventh in Total QBR (70.1) and was third in NFL passer rating (104.1). He also had a 19-5-1 starting record over the past two seasons.

However, Smith's strong numbers in 2012 reflected his abilities on early downs. His third-down Total QBR (33.1) trailed Cassel's (44.5). It's fair to wonder whether Smith will produce as well overall on a weaker team that could face predictable passing situations more frequently. Smith was at his best last season changing plays and keeping defenses off-balance. That's tougher to do when the defense knows a pass is coming.

NFC West blogger Kevin Seifert and I discussed these possibilities during the podcast.

Donovan McNabb can provide one point of reference. He succeeded under Chiefs coach Andy Reid as a high draft choice in Philadelphia. McNabb benefited from the organizational continuity Reid and the Eagles provided for more than a decade. Smith never benefited from that type of environment until the past couple seasons. Perhaps he can pick up in Kansas City where he left off in San Francisco.

The Chiefs certainly hope that will be the case.