Smith also played for the Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Frankfurt Galaxy, and Calgary Stampeders.
Given the name Kabisa Akili Maradufu Smith (in Swahili, "kabisa" means "completely," "akili" means "absolute," and "maradufu" means "double" or "a Gemini twin") by his parents Glorida Bryant and Ray Smith, Akili Smith was born in San Diego, California. Smith attended Abraham Lincoln High School in San Diego, the alma mater of Marcus Allen and Terrell Davis.
Smith was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the seventh round (206th overall) of the 1993 Major League Baseball draft. He played for the Gulf Coast League Pirates of the Gulf Coast League from 1993–1994, and the Erie SeaWolves of the New York–Penn League in 1995.
Due to low SAT scores, he had to attend Grossmont College, a junior college in the San Diego area for two years, prior to transferring to the University of Oregon. Smith came to the foreground of draft discussions because of his performance in his senior season at Oregon, throwing 30 touchdown passes in only 11 starts in college.
In the 1999 NFL Draft, a year in which five quarterbacks were drafted in the first round, Smith was the third quarterback and third player selected overall, by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Smith scored a 16 out of 50 on the NFL-administered Wonderlic test when he first took the exam in 1998. His agent Leigh Steinberg hired a tutor to help improve his score for the 1999 scouting combine, and he scored a 37 on the second try.
Prior to the draft, there was an effort by New Orleans Saints' head coach Mike Ditka and management to get the Cincinnati Bengals' high draft position so the Saints could get Ricky Williams. The final offer, which was refused by Bengals management, was for nine draft picks, several extra in that year as well as many the next year. Instead of taking the trade, the Bengals stayed with their initial decision to draft Smith, who, while athletic, (he had also played two years of minor-league baseball and ran a 4.66 40-yard dash) was still largely unproven, having only succeeded at the college level for one season.
Smith missed a large portion of training camp during his rookie season in 1999 due to contract disputes. On August 24, 1999, he signed a seven-year contract worth up to $56 million with a $10.8 million signing bonus.
Despite showing athleticism in his early games, he failed to grasp the Bengals playbook fully, and never established himself with the team. His offensive coordinator from 2001–2002, Bob Bratkowski, said Smith "wasn't as diligent as he should have been" regarding his film and playbook study habits. During the four years he was with the Bengals, he started in only 17 games and threw just five touchdown passes next to 13 interceptions, eventually leading to his release in 2002, after riding the bench mostly during the previous two years.
In 2003, Smith tried out for the Green Bay Packers, as Brett Favre's backup. He was, however, unsuccessful there and was later released. In 2005, he was released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after a stint in NFL Europe where he started four games for the Frankfurt Galaxy.
On April 28, 2007, Smith signed a two-year contract with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League, where he was expected to compete for the starting quarterback position with another former NFL player, Henry Burris. After an unimpressive debut in an exhibition game against the Edmonton Eskimos, Smith played well in the final exhibition against the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Though listed going into the game as the third-string quarterback, he completed three touchdown passes in only one half of play, including one to former Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Marc Boerigter.
In his first regular season action, replacing Burris in the second quarter on July 12, Smith struggled against the Toronto Argonauts. He finished 6-of-10 for 63 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. He also lost one fumble. He was then pulled at the end of the half. After an unimpressive showing against the Roughriders on October 8, 2007, going 4-of-12, for 37 yards, along with the impending return of a healthy Burris, the Stampeders released Smith on October 10, 2007.
After retiring from football, Smith was the quarterbacks coach for Grossmont College. Smith was a deacon at a Missionary Baptist church and played football for "God's House", a flag football team.
In March 2010, Smith joined the University of California's football staff as a graduate assistant to work with the offense. Cal head coach Jeff Tedford previously coached Smith at Oregon when he was offensive coordinator.
In 2012, Smith took over as quarterbacks coach for St. Augustine High School in San Diego. Smith planned to finish the college degree that he started at the University of Oregon.