Week 5 of the 2017 NFL season began without a clear early frontrunner in the MVP race.
It ended with Alex Smith taking the lead.
Of course, plenty will change between now and when final ballots are cast by 50 Associated Press voters (including yours truly) right after the regular season ends. Solid cases also can be made for worthy candidates like Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, New England’s Tom Brady and rookie running back Kareem Hunt, who is Smith’s teammate in Kansas City. Others like Carolina’s Cam Newton, New Orleans’ Drew Brees, Jacksonville’s Leonard Fournette and Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams show signs of making a push as well.
Smith, though, currently reigns supreme for a host of reasons.
— He is the quarterback for the NFL’s only unbeaten team (5-0).
— His passer rating of 125.8 and 76.6 completion percentage are tops among any quarterback with at least two starts.
— Smith and Brees are the only QBs to start every game for their respective team without having committed a turnover.
Smith also could hit some NFL milestones in Sunday’s game against visiting Pittsburgh (3-2). First, he can tie or exceed Randall Cunningham’s record of 12 touchdown passes in the first six games of the season without an interception. Smith currently has 11 scoring tosses.
Plus, Smith can join Rodgers (2011), Brady (2007) and Carson Palmer (2005) as the only quarterbacks to post a passer rating of 100-plus in a season’s first six games. Rodgers and Brady would ultimately win MVP honors.
Smith and Rodgers will forever be linked because they were the first two QBs selected in the 2005 draft. Rodgers, chosen at No. 24 by Green Bay long after Smith was the top overall pick by San Francisco, has forged a Pro Football Hall of Fame career by leading the Packers to a Super Bowl title and eight straight playoff appearances while amassing a slew of memorable moments along the way. Although he averaged 10 wins the previous six seasons after blossoming later in his career, Smith hasn’t proven as dynamic overall at the position.
The 2017 season is different.
A quarterback comparison by STATS shows Smith and Rodgers are neck-and-neck in a slew of quarterback categories. Smith also has displayed major improvement in the deep passing game. He has 14 completions of 20-plus yards after just 37 for the entire 2016 season. Smith’s yards-per-completion also has jumped from 7.2 to 8.8 yards.
The increase is partially linked to game-breaking wide receiver Tyreek Hill playing a larger role in the passing game than he did during his 2016 rookie campaign, along with Hunt’s emergence as a threat out of the backfield. But Smith also has made long throws that belie his traditionally conservative nature.
“He’s been able to keep his turnovers down,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid told media earlier this week. “I would tell you traditionally that’s where he’s been in his career even before he got here. But he is taking more shots down the field and his percentage is still low with the turnovers. He’s kept that where it needs to be.”
The timing of Smith’s improved performance — especially at age 33 — is unexpected. If he had played this well in 2016, the Chiefs might not have jumped up in the first round of April’s draft to select Patrick Mahomes as his eventual replacement.
The type of season Smith is enjoying will make him an attractive offseason trade target for quarterback-needy teams if the Chiefs believe Mahomes is ready to play. But just like with all the MVP hype, Smith is trying to focus on the task at hand.
That’s leading Kansas City to its first Super Bowl appearance since the 1969 season.
“The outside talk, you try to ignore the good and the bad,” Smith said earlier this week. “All these Week 5 power rankings, all this talk …. We are in the middle of the season. There are a lot of games left. I think anytime you stop and reflect on that and are feeling good, that’s probably not a sign of what is to come.
“For us, it is a little bit more about the path we are on, the direction we are heading and the bigger goal. Keeping our eye on that and knowing the only way to get there is out of a sense of urgency about how you go about your business.”
For the Chiefs and Smith, business is good.
Alex Marvez can be heard from 8 p.m. to midnight ET Friday and 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. ET Saturday on SiriusXM NFL Radio.
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