Harbaugh calls Smith an “elite quarterback”

NFL Coaches praise their players every week. And usually, it’s warranted.

But 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh may have just made the rare exception.

While speaking to reporters today, the rookie head coach said of Smith: “He’s every bit the elite quarterback as there is playing in the game right now.”

Yes, Alex Smith is having the best season of his career, but that by no means makes him an elite quarterback. He is not a game-changing quarterback.

Anyone that has watched the 49ers this year knows that their defense has carried them a 7-1 record. Frank Gore has also had a hand in the team success. Smith has managed the team well, cutting down on the mistakes that have plagued his career: the overthrown ball, the poorly-timed interception.

The 49ers passing offense ranks 30th out of 32 teams. Only Denver, led by everybody’s favorite punching bag, Tim Tebow, and Jacksonville, who are starting rookie Blaine Gabbert, have a worse passing game than the 49ers.

For the record, I can count the 2011 “elite” quarterbacks on one hand: Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford. I wouldn’t even put Smith in the next tier.

It’s possible that Harbaugh made the comment as a way to pump up Smith, the keep his confidence high, and that’s fine. But he shouldn’t throw around a word like “elite” so casually.

Does Alex Smith deserve some credit for the 49ers’ success this season? Absolutely. Is he an elite quarterback in 2011? Absolutely not.