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