In the months leading up to the NFL Draft, Geno Smith’s draft stock has been bouncing up and down the first round like JaMarcus Russell's body fat percentage. However, the NFL general managers’ thirst for quarterbacks is analogous to Russell’s for that purple drank. They can’t help their addiction for reaching too early on QB prospects.
On Thursday, Smith could get snatched off the board anywhere from the fourth overall pick to Philadelphia, or he could pitch a tent, and camp out until Friday’s second round waiting for his name to get called. However, general managers have too much tunnel vision to recognize when they’re repeating past mistakes. That being the case, Smith probably won’t last past the Eagles at No. 4 or the Cleveland Browns two picks later.
Smith’s football acumen and work ethic dwarfs Russell’s, however, that didn’t stop veteran NFL scout Nolan Nawrocki from delivering a subliminal blow to Smith in hisPro Football Weekly scouting report (similar to his questioning RGIII’s football intelligence and Cam Newton’s “fake smile”).
Has small hands and glaring ball security issues (32 career fumbles). Really struggled handling the snow in Pinstripe Bowl (took two safeties) and will be troubled by the elements...
Not committed or focused — marginal work ethic...Takes unnecessary sacks and does not feel pressure well. Not an elusive scrambler. Shaky lower-body mechanics — does not stand tall in the pocket (crouches, hops, dances and elevates to his toes when he throws). Has pin legs and bad pocket posture....
A cross between Akili Smith and Aaron Brooks, Smith is a gimmick, overhyped product of the system lacking the football savvy, work habits and focus to cement a starting job and could drain energy from a QB room. Will be overdrafted and struggle to produce against NFL defensive complexities.
Nawrocki’s commentary reeked of archaic NFL stereotypes and much of the criticism has been discredited by impartial observers. Essentially, Nawrocki questioned Smith’s intelligence, but we know that to be counter to the story of Smith’s early life as a precocious youth.
Growing up in Miami, Smith was an honors student with an extremely artistic mind (Smith was and still is a gifted painter). His intelligence and creativity translated to the gridiron at Miramar High School where he finished second to Jacory Harris as 2008’s Mr. Florida Football as a senior.
Trent Dilfer, ESPN’s quarterback guru runs the Elite 11 passing camp and was actually blown away by Smith’s work ethic. According to Dilfer, prior to Smith’s senior season, he arrived with a complete cognitive mastery of the 89-page playbook that was delivered to participants three weeks prior.
"Geno showed up, and on Day 1, he could have taught it," Dilfer told USA TODAY Sports . "He didn't just know it, he owned it. The Pro Football Weekly report should be discarded. It's almost laughable, the stuff he put in there."
If Nawrocki’s assessment was meant to be a hit piece, he needs to refine his technique, because he whiffed on the takedown. Nawrocki’s scouting report actually made the mistake of burying his lede.
I’ll extract it again:
Will be overdrafted and struggle to produce against NFL defensive complexities.
The most glaring obstacle between Smith becoming a franchise quarterback is his transition from his college coach Dana Holgersen’s “Air Raid” offense to pro-style offenses. The “Air Raid” offense is the brainchild of Hal Mumme and Mike Leach. The Air Raid offensive playbook is simplistic and features quarterbacks taking snaps from the shotgun formation with four or five receiver sets.
If Smith embarks on a fruitful NFL career, it will make him an outlier. Graham Harrell, Case Keenum, Brandon Weeden, Kevin Kolb, Nick Foles, Kliff Kingbury and Tim Couch account for the most prolific Air Raid signal-callers. Some of these guys have been the most high-profile draft busts in recent league history.
More and more collegiate offenses are becoming gimmicky because of the proliferation of the shotgun spread and the zone-option read. Nawrocki’s criticism about the novelty factor associated with West Virginia’s offense is both accurate and moot.
The Air Raid offensive scheme set Smith up to succeed in the Big 12, but it may have the reverse effect of putting him in a position to fail in the NFL.
Smith is attending the Draft with high school teammate and former West Virginia receiver Stedman Bailey in tow, but his other Mountaineer wide out, Tavon Austin deserves a cut of Smith’s first contract. In a draft light on offensive skill position players, Austin is projected as the first player available and his role in the offense augmented Smith’s skills.
On a majority of his throws to Austin and Bailey, Smith connected with the two receivers via bubble screens and short routes, which allowed them to gain beaucoup yardage after the catch. The Mountaineers were so successful on those tap-out throws that they led the nation in yards after the catch.
Smith completed 71. percent of his passes, but a third of those were thrown behind the line of scrimmage. Smith's average pass traveled a total of 7.7 yards. That's lightweight compared to the 2012 trio of Russell Wilson (10.4), Andrew Luck (10.2) and Andrew Luck (9.0) during their final collegiate season.
His 42 to seven touchdown to interception ratio is still impressive, but it gets knocked down a peg when you consider how the play calling and the system supplemented his production.
The midseason hype surrounding Smith reached astronomical proportions after he marched up and down field on Baylor’s defense for 656 yards and eight touchdowns in late September. However, Smith spent that afternoon working in a pocket the size of the Oval Office and the Baylor cornerbacks were playing zombie coverage.
At that point in the season, Smith had thrown for 1,996 yards and was in possession of a 24- 0 touchdown to interception ratio. That level of excellence was unsustainable and he quickly woke up from his dream world. Smith’s inability to sense pressure and his small hands were put on display the next week against Texas when he was sacked five times and fumbled twice while the ball was glued to his palms and his eyes were glued downfield. West Virginia and Smith's Heisman candidacy survived only because the Longhorns secondary was one of the worst in the nation.
That didn’t stop Todd McShay from speculating about Smith as an RGIII-caliber prospect.
The ensuing five-game losing streak dropped him out Heisman contention and the volume of the Geno hype has been lowered to the extent that, heading into Thursday’s NFL Draft, Smith will be nursing a sore back from crouching beneath the lowered expectations.
Smith is average at best and that’s okay.
He’s the middle child sandwiched between last year’s QB-rich draft class and Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, the can’t-miss QB prospect of 2014. Last season’s NFL Draft was a feast compared to this season’s quarterback famine. Organizations and their fan bases are starving for franchise quarterbacks, but they’ve gotten a little spoiled over the last two drafts. Smith’s not canned tuna, but he’s a few stars short of the five-star joint serving Maine Lobsters.
NFL.com’s Mike Mayock’s isn’t in love with Smith as a first round pick either.
“The ball jumps out of his hand. But there's a lot of things that make me nervous about him. He misses people by wide margins for no reason,” Mayock told Rich Eisen in February . I see a little bit of hesitancy with the blitz. When that first read is not there, it's not as pretty on the second or third read. His eyes come down. He makes mistakes."
There are also misconceptions about Smith’s athleticism, which has been trumpeted as a possible factor in Chip Kelly’s interest in him in the top four. However, he ran for just 167 yards as a senior. Smith has enough athleticism to escape the pocket, but he won’t be a threat to take off past the line of scrimmage, unless the defense lays out a red carpet for him. Unlike EJ Manuel, who has garnered unwarranted Newton comparisons out of left field, Smith is more similar to Luck than RGIII, but he’s not nearly as polished.
Smith can’t fumble this opportunity away like he did the pigskin under duress. In addition to carrying the potential hopes of a franchise and city on his back, Smith will be holding the fate of a front office exec and coaching staff in his tiny hands.
Smith should be a late-first round prospect and the NFL cognoscenti need to recognize that. If some desperate general manager throws his lot in with Smith, he may be setting an entire organization – and Smith – up to fail. But that speaks to the NFL’s climate of desperation for quarterback saviors. For the general manager’s picking quarterbacks in the first round, they need to be treated like an alcoholic at the bar after 2 a.m.: someone should instruct them to put down the quarterback and take away their keys.