Chris Graythen - Getty Images
Geno Smith's star is quickly brightening and with dark times ahead for the New York Jets, it may be wise to keep an eye towards the future.
You have probably heard of Geno Smith's name, even if you don't know too much about him. He's a quarterback, a senior at West Virginia University. And lately, he's become the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. He's a figure that we're going to want to get to know in the coming months, and so here I present to you an introduction to Smith, a basic "what you need to know" about the man.
There are two great articles I read on Smith, here and here. Any quotes contained within this article come from one of these two sources. Although I quote them extensively, I suggest you read them in their entirety.
I don't want to proclaim the season over, and I'm certainly not promoting a "Blow for Geno" campaign in the vein of the "Suck for Luck" campaign some people enjoyed last year. Every Sunday, I want to win. It pains me to say it for a variety of reasons, but Mark Sanchez's time with the New York Jets may be coming to an end. With the way Sanchez's contract is structured, it's very doubtful that he leaves the team before the end of next year, but it might be time to look to the future and begin grooming a replacement. Especially if this team is about to enter full rebuild mode, as I believe it should. So, without further ado, let's take a look at Mr. Smith.
Let's start with the obligatory statistics, courtesy of Wikipedia.
|Geno Smith WVU Passing Stats|
Notice, first of all, that every year his total yards and TD/INT ratio gets better each year. Second of all, notice that he's thrown zero (0!!!) interceptions this year. Now, some of these gaudy statistics have to do with his offensive system (the Air Raid) which pads the stats like no other. But a lot of that is sheer talent and preparation, as we'll see below.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Smith’s game is his preparation. It’s no secret that Smith is one of college football’s elite gym rats. When NFL franchises go to invest large amounts of resources in signal callers, they want someone that’s going to put in the work. Evaluators instantly shove guys up draft boards that have a drive for perfection. West Virginia HC Dana Holgorsen has said before that "Geno Smith gets our game tape, and has seen it four or five times before our first meeting." That’s what NFL franchises want at the helm, and that type of preparation is what separates Geno; perhaps even more than the gaudy statistics.
After the Baylor game, Holgorsen was asked whether he was happy with the level of Smith's play. "He was 45-of-51 for 656 yards and eight touchdowns and zero interceptions," Holgorsen replied. "Can you please explain to me how you can improve on that?" Maybe the only one who saw how he could was Smith. Following the win, he was emphatic that it was not "his best game," and, pointing to his six incompletions, stated that those were things he needed to fix. Holgorsen, when told of Smith's self-criticism, cast his eyes downward and responded, "That's just him. I worry about that with him at times. He expects perfection, which is impossible. In the game of football, perfection is impossible."
Perfection may be unattainable, but it's Smith's pursuit of it that has made him better over time. Despite throwing for more than 4,200 yards last season, his preliminary NFL draft grade came back lower than he'd hoped, so he addressed the criticism head-on. Told he was too skinny, he added 15 pounds of muscle. Told his deep and fade passes lacked accuracy, he focused on them by working with quarterback guru George Whitfield during the offseason and throwing countless "bucket" passes — arcing throws aimed at an actual bucket. Spare time was reserved for hours of film of Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.
In my short time evaluating QBs, Smith grades out as the most accurate guy I’ve ever seen coming into the NFL. His ball placement and touch are off the charts by NFL standards. Most of that has to do with his sky-high arm talent, which is a conversation in itself. Smith is a rare fluid passer, with connection between his feet, hips, and shoulders. He sports a nice high release point along with a lighting delivery. When watching him throw, you can’t help but think "man can he spin it." Once you have that preparation paired with arm talent, you’re onto something.
Of course, polish to a quarterback’s game comes with great preparation and we’ve already established that Smith has that covered. The point here is that we’re seeing Smith do things that take NFL passers years to master. He’s a natural. No other college quarterback has been able to step up against the blitz like Smith, let alone following it up by throwing a strike. No. 12 has shown that going through his progression is second nature, routinely hitting guys on his third and even fourth read. These are things he’s only improving upon, game by game.
Obviously, with Marshall, James Madison, Maryland, and Baylor, Geno Smith hasn’t played college football’s best defenses. In addition, one could make the argument that his surrounding cast makes him better. A doubter could even believe him to be a system quarterback, the beneficiary from spread coaching. However, they would all be wrong. Next week he plays Texas and a boatload of NFL talent. I don’t know any NFL draft analyst that will deny the talent in Geno’s arsenal. Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin are as good as it gets as far as college pass catchers go. Did Robert Griffin III’s loaded core of WRs hurt him? How much masking did that do? Many forget that RG3 threw the ball to Kendall Wright, Terrance Williams, and Josh Gordon (2010). It’s Smith’s pinpoint accuracy that allows those guys to showcase what makes them so special. Anyone arguing that because Geno Smith comes from a spread, and therefore won’t make a smooth transition to the NFL, obviously hasn’t been tuning in on Sunday. Not only have numerous former spread QBs make the transition flawlessly (RGIII, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, etc.), but the NFL as a whole is moving towards spread concepts and it’s moving quickly.
The most common concern about system quarterbacks is that college productivity doesn't translate to pro success, but for Smith, the plays he's running, albeit in a spread offense, are essentially NFL ones. The running game is based on the inside and outside zone, the passing plays are found in every NFL team's playbook in one form or another, and, this season in particular, Smith throws the ball vertically down the field. This is not the old dink-and-dunk Mike Leach offense — death by a thousand shallow crosses. Smith is making the safety move and hitting the deep post or corner for a touchdown, just like they do on Sundays.
The Final Word
As you can tell, Smith is very promising as a prospect. He's accurate, he works hard, and every year his game has improved. He has experience, and he has a very high ceiling. However, none of that will matter if we keep the same offensive system and coaches that we currently have. Ground and Pound is too conservative for Smith's particular set of skills, and Matt Cavanaugh has shown zero evidence that he's a capable quarterbacks coach. Quite simply, the team is not currently built to properly handle Smith as of now. The real question is what the Jets are going to do differently to prepare our next quarterback, since they've shown zero prowess in doing so thus far. But, in a year or two, with development, Geno Smith, Stephen Hill, and Jeremy Kerley can provide a good foundation to build a team around. Executed properly, there is a truly massive amount of potential there.
Now, the season is still young. A big test for Smith will be this weekend against the Texas Longhorns. Keep an eye on Smith as the season progresses, because we will be hearing a lot more about him once the draft comes around. But consider this your formal introduction to Geno Smith.