Geno Smith: 2013 and Beyond

Joel Auerbach

I think by almost any measure Geno Smith fell short of expectations in his rookie year. He ranked 34th in QBR, 37th in quarterback rating, 35th in completion percentage, 28th in passing touchdowns, 21st in yards, and fourth in interceptions. Using Pro Football Focus' accuracy stat that accounts for completions, drops, throw aways, spikes, and passes batted at the line, only Eli Manning was less accurate among quarterbacks who took at least half their team's stats. That is just ugly.

As the numbers suggest, it was not a great first year for Geno. One of the big problems was how he looked like the worst quarterback in the league when things were bad but only looked competent for the most part when he was at his best. Early season performances against Buffalo and Atlanta were really the only two games in the sixteen game season where one could say he played great ball and carried a big part of the load in a win.

One of Geno's big issues was footwork. A quarterback really needs to either have the ball out of his first read by the time his foot plants or move quickly onto his second read. It looked to me like Geno too frequently couldn't get off his first read. He also at times froze in the face of a blitz, failing to make the proper adjustments. These things led to spells of extreme inaccuracy and turnovers. It is no surprise according to PFF that Geno had the fifth longest time from the snap to his throw. For as bad as his offensive line was, his lack of decisiveness led to him having the seventh longest time from snap to sack.

Geno was clearly put into less than optimal circumstances for a rookie quarterback. This was not Mark Sanchez walking onto a team with a dominant offensive line and run game to protect him and credible NFL targets. Sanchez even had the best defense in the league to limit the points necessary to win. Geno had a receiving corps that was bad by NFL standards when fully healthy. There were injuries that forced players who might not even belong in the NFL into taking big snaps. Part of success in the NFL is trusting that receivers will read the defense the same way as you and run their routes the proper way as a result. For receiver and quarterback to get on the same page, it requires practice rep after practice rep so the two will learn exactly how each other will react to a given situation. If they aren't on the same page, the offense won't work. Without receivers the quarterback knows and are capable of beating the coverage, the passing game will struggle.

While Geno does have to take a lot of the heat for the sacks, the offensive line did have protection issues as well. D'Brickashaw Ferguson had a bad year, and left guard was a consistent sieve.The run game was also inconsistent. A strong run game to shoulder the load and take pressure off can really help a rookie quarterback.

Geno did show some good things. He does have an NFL arm, and he was one of the most effective deep passers in the league over the course of the season. He rated third in accuracy and fifth in completions and yardage according to PFF. He also did a decent job generating offense as a scrambler, rushing for 366 yards and 6 touchdowns on 72 carries. His scrambling was perhaps his most effective way of beating pressure and slowing down the pass rush. He also did show resiliency, leading four game-winning drives in the fourth quarter and overtime and playing solid ball in the fourth quarter of the season after looking totally sunk and demoralized in a four game stretch in November and December.

Where do the Jets go from here with Geno? He's clearly going to be on the 2014 roster. It makes no sense to totally quit on a guy after one year, particularly when he will count for just a shade over $1 million against the cap. Is he the guy the Jets are going to build around going forward? That is a different question.

I think it would frankly be irresonsible to anoint Geno as the quarterback of the future based on what we saw in 2013. Clearly the situation was less than ideal, but he was still one of the least accurate quarterbacks in the league and one of the worst at protecting the football. Things like receiver play and protection contribute to bad performance, but they do not require bad performance. At the very best, all we can say is these might be reasons Geno might not stink. We didn't see a ton of top play to suggest he's heading for NFL stardom. You can point to the teammates. You can point to some guy who was bad as a rookie and became a good quarterback. Geno showed some troubling signs this year that are independent of any other variable. It's not that he didn't look as good  as Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson. It's that there were too many stretches where he didn't look like a credible quarterback even by rookie standards.

The Jets need insurance in case the inaccuracy, bad mechanics, and turnovers were really about Geno. We just don't know. Maybe they were the result of his surroundings, but how can we say for sure. At a minimum, there needs to be a veteran alternative to compete in camp and make Geno earn the starting job. How about the Draft? I personally think a team should take a quarterback every year. How early? If the Jets feel there is somebody out there who can be a franchise guy, they should go get him. I believe franchise quarterback trumps all other need. I also believe that until you know you have a franchise quarterback, your top priority should be to look for one. Even if the first guy pans out, having two good quarterbacks is not a problem. The mistakes of the Jets with Mark Sanchez are a frequent topic of discussion. For my money one of the biggest mistakes the Jets made with Sanchez was never having a credible alternative. It wasn't because Sanchez needed extra motivation. A guy with his salary who was supposed to be a leader shouldn't need extra motivation to play well. It was more practical. Whether a veteran or a young guy, the Jets needed to be able to move and plug somebody else in if Sanchez fell flat on his face. Same idea here.

I think ultimately one of the biggest ironies of Geno Smith is that if he does succeed, it looks like he will be the polar opposite of the player he was in college. In college he was a pure pocket guy and a pinpoint passer who wasn't as great down the field yet protected the ball. In the NFL if Geno finds success, it will likely be the Eli/Romo/Flacco mold of not being accurate, making big mistakes, and making up for it with big plays. Hopefully for the Jets' sake it works out.

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