Alex Smith, the No. 1 pick in the 2005 NFL draft, has had his moments but he’s never quite lived up to the advance billing — especially when he’s compared to Tom Brady, a draft-day afterthought ignored by the league until the New England Patriots nabbed him at No. 199 in 2000.
Smith’s a “game manager.” Brady’s “Captain America” — a scrawny kid who became a hero.
But on Saturday, when the underdog Washington Football Team takes on Brady and the heavily-favored Tampa Bay Buccaneers at FedEx Field, Smith has a chance — for one night at least — to turn the “David-and-Goliath” aspect of their two careers inside out.
Here’s a look at how Smith, the can’t-miss star who became an NFL survivor, and Brady, the understudy who became a legend, have stacked up against the other over the years:
College: Brady arrived at Michigan as the seventh-string quarterback and worked his way to becoming the starter for his final two seasons, eclipsing 2,000 passing yards each of those years. And while he led the Wolverines to wins at the Citrus Bowl and Orange Bowl, his draft stock was low.
Smith, meanwhile, finished his Utah career in three seasons before the 49ers drafted him. He outperformed Brady’s numbers, too, finishing his career with 47 touchdowns, eight interceptions and 5,203 yards.
Team longevity: Seeing Brady in Buccaneers colors caused plenty of double-takes when the season began. The 43-year-old had spent 20 seasons as the New England Patriots quarterback — no other quarterback has played in more games for one team than Brady.
Smith’s career trajectory has taken several turns, though. After beginning with San Francisco, the 49ers traded Smith to Kansas City in 2013 after Colin Kaepernick took the starting job. Then Patrick Mahomes came around for the Chiefs, sending Smith in a trade to Washington in 2018.
χ Injury history: Brady missed the 2008 season after suffering a torn ACL in the opener, but Smith’s injury history exceeds just about anyone in the sport. He nearly lost his leg. He required 17 surgeries, battled through an infection and still needs a hefty brace to support him now that he’s back on the field.
χ Mobility: As a result of Smith’s broken leg, the 36-year-old’s mobility is severely reduced. Coach Ron Rivera said he’s contemplating splitting time between Taylor Heinicke and Smith on Saturday, because Smith is still dealing with a calf strain, too.
Of course, Brady isn’t some kind of burner, either. He ran a 40-yard dash in 5.28 seconds at the combine, and at 43, teams have shown they can disrupt Brady most when they force him out of the pocket.
Stats in 2020: Even in a new system, Brady is putting together one of the best seasons of his career. He’s thrown for 4,633 yards — his most since 2015 — and he has thrown for 40 or more touchdowns for just the second time in his career.
Smith wasn’t expected to play football again at one point, let alone start six games this season. He’s thrown eight picks to six touchdowns with 1,582 yards — not standout marks, but enough to guide Washington to the playoffs.
Clutch time: Brady tends to be clutch when it matters most, 48 game-winning drives in his career, according to Pro Football Reference. In the playoffs, Brady has another 13 game-winning drives. Smith has played in far fewer games than Brady has, but he still has 24 game-winning drives in the regular season and playoffs.
Head-to-head history: When the Chiefs visited Foxborough to open the 2017 season, Smith out-dueled the reigning Super Bowl MVP. Brady threw for 267 yards but couldn’t find the end zone. Smith completed 28 passes for 368 yards and four touchdowns.
In the limited head-to-head action between Brady and Smith, Smith holds the upper hand. He beat the Patriots in 2014, throwing for another three scores while Brady tossed two picks in that game. While New England beat Kansas City in the playoffs in January 2016, Smith holds the 2-1 edge with his massive 2017 performance.
Playoff history: Brady is 30-11 all-time in the playoffs, with six Super Bowl titles to back that up. Smith hasn’t found the same long-lasting success as Brady, with a 2-5 record in postseason games. But Washington can find solace in one respect: in Brady’s eight career road playoff games, he’s 4-4 with nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
NFL honors: Brady is one of the most decorated players in the NFL: a 14-time Pro Bowler, three-time MVP and six-time Super Bowl champion. Smith has three Pro Bowl honors, too, with his most recent coming in 2017.
Comeback Player of the Year: Brady won the AP Comeback Player of the Year award in 2009, returning from his torn ACL the year before to post an impressive season. And after all Smith has been through to return to the football field, he’ll surely win the award himself.
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