Geno Smith | Quarterback | West Virginia | 6-foot-2 3/8, 218 pounds
From a statistical standpoint, it's easy to fall in love with Geno Smith. Statistically, he improved every year. The three-year starter finished his career throwing 98 touchdowns to just 21 interceptions. He completed 67.4 percent of his throws, topping out at 71.2 percent as a senior.
Smith's stats are great. But they're not a true indicator of an NFL Draft prospect's talent. Particularly when they come out of Dana Holgorsen's Air Raid offense built to exploit mismatches.
Smith has a lot of likable traits. He has nice arm strength. He's generally an accurate thrower and gets the ball out quickly. But he's not a perfectly clean prospect. Because he's unfairly judged against last year's star quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, the expectation is high. But even tempered, Smith is not a surefire franchise quarterback.
The West Virginia offense often asked for Smith to get the ball out quickly, and he was successful in doing so. He has a compact, fast release and can change his arm slot. While lowering his release point can lead to batted passes, it's good that Smith can improvise and throw accurately from a lower point.
Smith's arm strength is fine. There are some issues with how he zips the ball (more on that later), but the arm strength is there. Smith may just need to be coached up on how to depend a little more on his natural traits. He's a gifted player, and that can't be coached. At West Virginia, he consistently completed passes to all areas of the field. While Smith did throw a lot of shorter throws, he can push the ball over the top when asked.
On throws to the middle, Smith shows good anticipation. He often throws to his receivers in stride and can fit the ball into a tight window. The West Virginia offense didn’t often call for Smith to work through multiple progressions, but when he had to he was good enough. It’s an area where he’ll have to grow, but it’s not necessarily a weakness.
Although he's not known for his running ability, Smith has good legs. He showed it by running a 4.59 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. He also flashed the ability to run on occasion at West Virginia. It just wasn't a big part of the offense.
But don't let that speed fool you. Smith is a pocket passer. He can avoid the rush, but is at his best when the pocket is clean and he can step up into a throw. He's especially dangerous on quick-strikes throws on the inside. With a wide receiver like Tavon Austin, who can break it open any time he touches the ball, why not take advantage of slants? There value in being successful in simple plays. That can be as worthwhile as the flashy big yardage throws.
Smith's greatest weakness is one that many college quarterbacks face going to the NFL. It's not that he played in a shotgun spread offense – that worry has been negated some by the evolution of NFL passing offenses. It's how he handled pressure that stands out. Against Syracuse as a junior, Smith faced consistent pressure from Chandler Jones and he threw two interceptions and West Virginia lost. Last October, Texas put the rush on Smith and he struggled largely until the fourth quarter. Smith did complete 71.4 percent of his passes and had four touchdowns that game, but the Longhorns rush gave him trouble. While some of that blame can be placed on the West Virginia line, Smith looked skittish.
With pressure coming from around the edges at him, Smith too often stepped backward instead of into the pocket. While he often moved around in the pocket properly, the backward movement arguably has the greatest negative impact on his accuracy. It led to Smith throwing off his back foot, taking velocity off the ball.
The velocity on Smith's deeper throws can cause pause. Like many college quarterbacks, Smith will rainbow his throws instead of throwing them on the proverbial rope. Smith isn't as guilty of it as other quarterbacks, but it's there. Smith would be much better off if he put more zip on his throws. That deficiency is particularly noticeable on sideline throws to the left.
While it's true that Smith ran a more traditional offense early in his West Virginia career, he's still played the last two seasons in the quick-pass shotgun spread. There weren't a lot of examples the past two seasons of Smith taking a deep drop while reading the defense. Instead, he often benefited from lining up in the shotgun, taking a single step back and quickly getting rid of the ball.
Of course, a quarterback evaluation can't be done without mentioning size. At 6-foot-2 and 3/8 and 218 pounds, Smith is average size. His 9.25-inch hand size also comes in about average. He's never had issues fumbling the ball, however.
There is a lot to like with Geno Smith. He passes the eye test pretty easily. His arm is good enough, his size is good enough and his release is quick. He has some eye-gouging numbers as well. For instance, during one stretch of 283 pass attempts between his junior and senior seasons, Smith had 31 touchdowns and no interceptions. Coincidentally, that interception was by Kansas State’s Arthur Brown, who stopped a similar streak by Griffin.
But beyond the stats and the immediate measurable tools, there are some flaws in Smith’s game. He’s the best quarterback in the 2013 NFL Draft, but he’s not as clean of a prospect as those before him.
Comparison: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
It’s a little challenging finding a direct comparison for Smith since he’s coming out of Holgorsen’s offense. So instead of a pure traits-based comparison, this one is done more so on expected career arc. Like Ryan, Smith is the best quarterback in his class but won’t be the first overall pick. It may also take some time for Smith to come into his own in the NFL. He’ll probably never be compared with the top-tier quarterbacks in the NFL, but he should be good, dependable signal callers.