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Why Alex Smith could be an upgrade at quarterback in Washington

Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports The biggest trade of the 2018 offseason in the NFL was arguably the Kansas City Chiefs sending quarterback Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins in exchange for cornerback Kendall Fuller and a third-round draft pick.
Fast forward six years and Smith got once again replaced just weeks after the highest graded season of his career – overall grade of 82.1.
While Cousins has a tough task to live up to the expectations set by Case Keenum’s impressive season Vikings last season and Mahomes is expected to go through some growing pains in his first season as a starter, Smith represents an upgrade over Cousins’ 2017 season in Washington – one in which the Redskins offense was marred by numerous injuries.
Smith was kept clean on 67.0 percent of his dropbacks, the 11th-highest rate in the league.
As a comparison, Cousins ranked ninth in the NFL last season in passer rating when kept clean with a figure of 106.5.
A reliable target in the middle of the field Smith was able to play with one of the best pass-catching tight ends in Travis Kelce over the last four years and he took full advantage of having a big target to work with in the middle of the field.
Furthermore, Reed has also proven to be a reliable target when on the field as he saw at least a passer rating when targeted of 113.0 in each of the past three seasons, including 128.5 in 2015, the second-highest rating among tight ends with at least 50 targets in that season.
Then, last season we saw a Smith, who was previously deemed to be too conservative, air it out and excel in the deep passing game on throws targeted 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
pic.twitter.com/32X0IaHm84 — Zoltán Buday (@PFF_Zoltan) August 20, 2017 During the regular season, Smith threw deep on 12.3 percent of his attempts (15th in the NFL) and led the league in adjusted completion percentage on these throws (54.8 percent), yards gained on deep attempts (1,344 yards) and was tied with Russell Wilson for most touchdown passes on deep throws at 12.
Furthermore, Smith had a PFF grade of 99.4 (on a scale of 0 to 100) on deep throws targeted outside the right numbers, the highest grade when throwing to a certain area of the field by any quarterback in the NFL.

Premium Stats Version 2

Jul 28, 2018; Richmond, VA, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith (11) and Redskins quarterback Kevin Hogan (8) stand on the field during drills on day three of Redskins training camp at Washington Redskins Bon Secours Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest trade of the 2018 offseason in the NFL was arguably the Kansas City Chiefs sending quarterback Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins in exchange for cornerback Kendall Fuller and a third-round draft pick. The move directly impacted three quarterbacks and, curiously, the one who was traded has been the most overlooked over the last couple months. However, while Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and now-Minnesota Vikings signal-caller Kirk Cousins might have time on their side, Smith could be the one of the three who provides the most significant year-on-year improvement at the quarterback position for his respective team.

So, lets take a look at what we can expect from Smith in the Nation’s capital.

This offseason was not the first time when Smith could feel underappreciated. He had his best year to date in the 2011 season – with a PFF overall grade of 78.7 – just months before he was benched in favor of Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco. Fast forward six years and Smith got once again replaced just weeks after the highest graded season of his career – overall grade of 82.1. While Cousins has a tough task to live up to the expectations set by Case Keenum’s impressive season Vikings last season and Mahomes is expected to go through some growing pains in his first season as a starter, Smith represents an upgrade over Cousins’ 2017 season in Washington – one in which the Redskins offense was marred by numerous injuries.

Passing from a clean pocket

As PFF’s analytics department has highlighted recently, a quarterback’s performance from a clean pocket is one of the most predictive and stable data points collected by PFF. As a result, if a quarterback who does well from a clean pocket in one season is more likely to perform well from a clean pocket the next year rather than if we looked at his performance under pressure or using play action. This should be good news for the Washington fans as Smith led the league last season among quarterbacks with at least 250 dropbacks with a passer rating of 115.3 and threw just three interceptions on 505 attempts when kept clean.

Smith was kept clean on 67.0 percent of his dropbacks, the 11th-highest rate in the league. With the Washington offensive line once again healthy, there’s a good chance this figure actually goes up as we have ranked their offensive line the 12th best going into the season, compared to Kansas…

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