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Recent History Shows the Difficult Odds Geno Smith Faces

If history is a guide, Geno Smith is going to have a tough time improving himself into a successful NFL quarterback.

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

If the season began today, Geno Smith would be the starting quarterback. The door remains open for a Ryan Fitzpatrick return, but there is a nonzero chance Geno will make his third career Week 1 start against the Bengals in two months.

Smith didn't make a start in his third season and saw extended action in only a single game. He was the starter for most of his first two seasons. There were some high points but many more lows. I wanted to take a moment to explore just where he rated among recent young quarterbacks and what the odds are of having a successful career after a difficult start.

I took a look at the Pro Football Reference Play Finder and went back ten years from the point where Geno was drafted. I took a look at quarterbacks who attempted at least 500 passes in their first three NFL seasons. One thing in particular stuck out.

These were the quarterbacks with a passer rating of 80 or higher.

Russell Wilson 98.5
Nick Foles 94.5
Colin Kaepernick 92.5
Carson Palmer 91.7
Robert Griffin 90.3
Philip Rivers 88.3
Ben Roethlisberger 87.8
Jay Cutler 87.1
Cam Newton 86.3
Matt Ryan 86.2
Matthew Stafford 85.1
Joe Flacco 84.9
Andrew Luck 84.6
Ryan Tannehill 84
Mike Glennon 83.7
Andy Dalton 83.6
Jake Locker 81.1
Jason Campbell 80.4
Byron Leftwich 80.3

These were the quarterbacks with a passer rating below 80.

Josh Freeman 79
EJ Manuel 78.5
Trent Edwards 77.9
J.P. Losman 77.4
Sam Bradford 77.3
Christian Ponder 77.3
Chad Henne 75.3
Mark Sanchez 75.3
Derek Anderson 75.1
Colt McCoy 74.8
Tarvaris Jackson 74.4
Eli Manning 72.5
Brandon Weeden 72.5
Geno Smith 72.3
Matt Leinart 71.7
Charlie Frye 71.1
Kyle Orton 71.1
Chris Simms 70.2
Kyle Boller 69.2
Vince Young 68.2
Blaine Gabbert 66.4
JaMarcus Russell 65.2
Alex Smith 63.5
John Skelton 63

What does this tell us? Not every quarterback in the top group was successful. Guys hovering around 80 like Locker and Leftwich were busts. Others like Foles, Kaepernick, and Griffin seem to have peaked early and have greatly regressed.

It still is striking how there are almost no success stories from quarterbacks who did not play credible football in their first three years.

Eli Manning is one of the most frequent references of fans with a struggling young quarterback. If you look at this list, though, he is the only one resembling a franchise quarterback who struggled to such a degree early in his career. There are 23 other names on the list. Clearly there are exceptions to any rule. Manning proves that. Still, anybody who uses Manning as a reason for hope would be well-advised to consider how many more struggling young quarterbacks failed to grow into something special. Even if we want to go with players who eventually developed into credible quarterbacks, Smith and Orton would probably be the only two other examples.

Another frequent argument is that young players improve. This is true. Guys like Roethlisberger, Wilson, and Newton are certainly better players than they were the day they entered the league. They were already pretty good, early in their respective careers, though. It isn't a long trek to go from good to very good. Going from poor to very good is a long trek and one that very few seem to be able to make.

Is any of this to say it is impossible Geno Smith will become a good player? Of course not. Manning proved it is at least possible. I do think it is important to understand the odds here, though. Yes, it is possible he will show greater ability to improve than almost any other quarterback in recent history. Yes, it is possible he really had greatness in him but was bogged down by horrific surroundings. When you look at the players he performed similarly to and their subsequent outcomes, however, there seems to be a fairly substantial chance things haven't clicked for a reason. If you get past broad comparisons and generalizations about young guys improving, it is a large and very difficult hill to climb.