NFL Draft 2013: Geno Smith and a survey of Air Raid quarterbacks in the NFL

USA TODAY Sports

Can Geno Smith become one of the first Air Raid quarterbacks to build a lasting NFL career?

There are many valid concerns about Geno Smith, NFL quarterback.

He's not very good under physical pressure. Tons of his production in college came by way of short passes that Tavon Austin took the distance (some of those so short they're only technically passes). He's not that big. His intermediate passes lack zip, whether we're judging with our eyes or with numbers. He fumbles. He didn't excel in the Pinstripe Bowl's wintry December weather, which is unavoidable in the NFL.

That he played in a quick-release, shotgun-spread offense for two of his four college years has also been raised as a critique, and it should be. Some quarterbacks have been able to transition to drop-back offenses, and others haven't (though the NFL's beginning to learn shotgun quarterbacks can often just remain shotgun quarterbacks anyway).

While Smith doesn't inspire anywhere near the same confidence that Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson did last year (and college fans were very, very high on Wilson as a NFL prospect), he can still prove himself worthy of a top-five pick so long as he lands in a smart system. Despite the word on the street, he's widely viewed as a hard worker and film student, has suitable physical tools and has already succeeded in multiple offenses.

Here's what all the Geno Smith talk has me wondering about: how have successful Air Raid quarterbacks tended to fare at the NFL level, and where does Smith's college performance rank among them? There aren't a ton of them, as it's been little over a decade since the scheme crafted by Hal Mumme and Mike Leach caught on (you should read this about the history of the Air Raid, while we're here), so we aren't likely to reveal patterns of mystical truths here, but it's a list, and everyone likes looking at lists.

With some caveats discussed below, first here we have the seasons (with 200 or more attempts) of more or less every FBS Air Raid quarterback, ranked by passer rating:

Att. % Yards TD INT Rating

Case Keenum Houston 2011 603 71 5631 48 5 174

John Beck BYU 2006 417 69.3 3885 32 8 169.1

Geno Smith WVU 2012 518 71.2 4205 42 6 163.9

Kevin Kolb Houston 2006 432 67.6 3809 30 4 162.7

Max Hall BYU 2009 409 67.2 3560 33 14 160.1

Graham Harrell Texas Tech 2008 626 70.6 5111 45 9 160

Case Keenum Houston 2008 589 67.4 5020 44 11 159.9

Brandon Weeden OK State 2011 564 72.3 4727 37 13 159.8

Jason White Oklahoma 2004 390 65.4 3205 35 9 159.4

Jason White Oklahoma 2003 451 61.6 3846 40 10 158.1

Graham Harrell Texas Tech 2007 713 71.8 5705 48 14 157.3

Max Hall BYU 2008 477 69.2 3957 35 14 157.2

Johnny Manziel Texas A&M 2012 434 68 3706 26 9 155.3

Chase Holbrook NMSU 2006 567 70 4619 34 9 155.1

Case Keenum Houston 2009 700 70.3 5671 44 15 154.8

Brandon Weeden OK State 2010 511 66.9 4277 34 13 154.1

Kevin Kolb Houston 2003 360 61.1 3131 25 6 153.8

Seth Doege Texas Tech 2012 541 70.2 4205 39 16 153.4

Tim Couch Kentucky 1998 553 72.3 4275 36 15 153.3

Colby Cameron LA Tech 2012 522 68.8 4147 31 5 153.2

Geno Smith WVU 2011 526 65.8 4385 31 7 152.6

B.J. Symons Texas Tech 2003 719 65.4 5833 52 22 151.3

Cody Hodges Texas Tech 2005 531 66.5 4238 31 12 148.3

Case Keenum Houston 2007 273 68.5 2259 14 10 147.6

Graham Harrell Texas Tech 2006 616 66.9 4555 38 11 145.8

Nick Foles Arizona 2011 560 69.1 4334 28 14 145.6

Willie Tuitama Arizona 2008 399 64.9 3088 23 8 144.9

Kliff Kingsbury Texas Tech 2002 712 67.3 5017 45 13 143.7

Shane Carden ECU 2012 413 66.1 3116 23 10 143

Chase Holbrook NMSU 2008 456 67.8 3361 25 14 141.6

Tim Couch Kentucky 1997 547 66.4 3884 37 19 141.4

Taylor Potts Texas Tech 2010 551 67 3726 35 10 141.1

Nick Foles Arizona 2010 426 67.1 3191 20 10 140.9

Josh Heupel Oklahoma 2000 433 64.7 3392 20 14 139.2

Chase Holbrook NMSU 2007 543 70.2 3866 26 18 139.1

Seth Doege Texas Tech 2011 581 68.5 4004 28 10 138.9

Sonny Cumbie Texas Tech 2004 642 65.6 4742 32 18 138.5

Max Hall BYU 2007 496 60.1 3848 26 12 137.7

John Beck BYU 2005 513 64.5 3709 27 13 137.6

David Piland Houston 2010 345 58.3 2641 24 14 137.4

Colby Cameron LA Tech 2011 215 54.9 1667 13 3 137.2

Taylor Potts Texas Tech 2009 470 65.7 3440 22 13 137.1

Kliff Kingsbury Texas Tech 2001 528 68.9 3502 25 9 136.9

Josh Heupel Oklahoma 1999 553 63.1 3850 33 16 135.5

Willie Tuitama Arizona 2007 524 62.4 3683 28 12 134.5

Dominique Davis ECU 2010 609 64.5 3967 37 16 134

Nate Hybl Oklahoma 2002 363 57.6 2538 24 8 133.7

Kevin Kolb Houston 2005 420 60.5 3258 19 15 133.4

Dominique Davis ECU 2011 494 67.6 3225 25 19 131.5

Kevin Kolb Houston 2004 353 56.1 2766 11 6 128.8

Ross Jenkins LA Tech 2010 274 62.8 1760 12 6 126.8

Dwight Dasher MTSU 2009 399 54.9 2789 23 14 125.6

Nick Foles Arizona 2009 409 63.6 2486 19 9 125.6

Omar Haugabook Troy 2006 393 61.3 2401 21 17 121.6

Logan Kilgore MTSU 2011 365 58.6 2231 18 12 119.7

Jeff Tuel WSU 2012 332 63.6 2087 8 8 119.5

David Piland Houston 2012 448 57.1 2929 16 12 118.5

Kliff Kingsbury Texas Tech 2000 584 61.8 3412 21 17 116.9

Jared Lorenzen Kentucky 1999 559 57.4 3687 19 21 116.5

Jake Heaps BYU 2010 383 57.2 2316 15 9 116.2

Connor Halliday WSU 2012 291 52.2 1878 15 13 114.5

Royal Gill NMSU 2005 328 59.5 1930 11 9 114.5

Nate Hybl Oklahoma 2001 380 58.4 2234 14 13 113.1

Nick Isham LA Tech 2011 257 60.3 1457 8 7 112.8

Dwight Dasher MTSU 2010 251 57.8 1550 6 18 103.2

Joey Vincent NMSU 2005 215 52.6 1219 6 12 98.2


And here are where Air Raid quarterbacks have turned up in the Draft and beyond (asterisks indicate ongoing NFL careers):

Draft # NFL years NFL starts

Tim Couch Kentucky 1 7 59

Brandon Weeden OK State 22 1 * 15*

Kevin Kolb Houston 36 6 * 21*

John Beck BYU 40 6 * 7*

Nick Foles Arizona 88 1 * 6*

Josh Heupel Oklahoma 177 2 0

Kliff Kingsbury Texas Tech 201 3 0

B.J. Symons Texas Tech 248 2 0

Case Keenum Houston UFA 1 * 0*

Dominique Davis ECU UFA 1 * 0*

Graham Harrell Texas Tech UFA 2 0

Jared Lorenzen Kentucky UFA 4 0

Jason White Oklahoma UFA 1 0

Max Hall BYU UFA 2 3

Nate Hybl Oklahoma UFA 2 0

Sonny Cumbie Texas Tech UFA 1 0

Taylor Potts Texas Tech UFA 2 * 0*

Some caveats, as promised

What makes a true Air Raid quarterback is up for debate.

Art Briles coached offense under Leach before taking over Houston and then Baylor. In his offense, Griffin's Heisman season rating (189.47) would top this chart, plus he tacked on 699 rushing yards that year. But while WVU ranked No. 81 in the country in rushing attempts per game last year and Leach's Washington State ranked last, Baylor's ranked in the top 17 for two years now. You can run out of an Air Raid offense, but running that much moves into what I think most of us would define as hybrid territory.

Briles, once a running backs coach, has always used far more of a run game than other coaches with Air Raid influences, perhaps owing to his broad experimentation with offensive styles as a high school coach. But for most of his time at Houston, his teams passed more than they ran, so we're rolling with that for now.

Likewise, Oklahoma's offense since Leach left in 2000 has slowly morphed away from what Chris Brown called its use of the "old-school, Kentucky-era" Air Raid. Some consider 2003 Heisman winner Jason White to be an Air Raid quarterback, but multiple coordinators later, it's shifted to some sort of multiple, spread-to-pass scheme. (And in 2013, it's probably going full Tebow with bruiser Blake Bell likely taking over.)

Other borderline cases include Tommy Tuberville's Texas Tech reign and whatever the hell former Mumme OC and current Cal OC Tony Franklin did at Auburn in 2007 and 2008. That was when Tuberville and Franklin failed to see eye-to-eye as to exactly what kind of offense the Tigers would run - the proto Gus Malzahn vs. Gene Chizik or retro Malzahn vs. Houston Nutt, whichever you'd prefer.

Is Geno Smith the Air Raid's greatest ambassador?

That's a pretty silly question. But it would appear he has the best chance yet to show that a quarterback from a pass-heavy Air Raid scheme can succeed in the NFL. Because of that, college fans and fans of progressive football should root for him.

I don't know how many open-minded coaches are left in the NFL, but after Mike Shanahan, Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll showed the value of gettin' collegiate last year, we can hope another will sign on.

(If he goes to the Jaguars, what a near-miss: former OC Dirk Koetter, now with the Falcons, would've been perfect for him. Koetter's a longtime college-spread guy who has dabbled in Air Raid concepts.)

Making excuses for Geno Smith not being No. 1 on that chart up there

For one thing, his best year is behind the best years of only two other Air Raid quarterbacks, Houston's 817th-year senior Case Keenum and BYU's John Beck.

His defense was by far the worst of the three, yielding 38.1 points per game to Houston's 22.4 and BYU's 13.9. Don't even need advanced stats there. That's a lot for any quarterback to overcome.

Smith faced tougher defenses, too, with WVU's average opponent ranking 50th in Football Outsiders' defensive F/+ ranking (Houston's ranked 75th, and BYU's ranked so terribly that Football Outsiders' metric didn't even exist yet).

We should also note Smith is perhaps more qualified to run the way-of-the-future NFL offense, which has finally figured out what to do with mobile quarterbacks, than any Air Raid quarterback before him. He's reasonably nimble, running for 25 or more yards in eight college games, and surprisingly posted the fastest 40 time (4.59) of any quarterback at this year's Combine, also topping the Combine times of all previous Air Raid quarterbacks. He doesn't have the frame for Colin Kaepernick's seven or so carries per game at the NFL level, but neither do you, so who are you to judge?

More from SB Nation:

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The NFL Draft's most underrated running backs

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Geno Smith's scathing scouting report

NFL Mock Draft: SB Nation bloggers are on the clock

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