West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is the last of nine 2013 NFL Draft quarterback prospects that Buffalo Rumblings will profile this off-season. Smith is a three-year starter who began the 2012 college football season on fire while en route to a 5-0 record, reminding many fans of Robert Griffin III and his torrid pace during the 2011 season. As the Big 12 season opened up, West Virginia and Smith came back down to earth, evening up to 5-5 before finishing 7-5 and ending their season with a loss in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Geno Smith | QB | West Virginia
- 6'2 3/8", 218 pounds
- Started 39 games over three seasons (26-13 record, 1-2 in bowl games)
- Career stats: 988/1,465 (67.4% completions), 11,662 yards (7.9 YPA), 98 TD, 21 INT
Smith possesses all of the physical traits needed to play the position. He has a strong arm, and has played well in the bad weather games in Morgantown, firing through wind and precipitation. He throws accurately into tight windows, and has learned to take some heat off his fastball when needed. He throws very well on the move, showing a remarkable ability to move, reset, and fire the football accurately.
Don't be fooled by Smith's athleticism. He's a pocket passer with tremendous scrambling ability. While many view Smith as a dual threat quarterback, I don't. He is a pocket passer first, and plays like one. Smith moves when he needs to and resets very quickly - he's the best quarterback in the draft in this regard.
Smith tries to stay in the pocket and allow his protection to work for him. This may not have been a good idea, since he played behind an average offensive line. That said, Smith keeps eyes downfield under pressure. He'll stand in and throw with the world crashing in around him. He can take a beating and still deliver the football accurately - see the 2012 Maryland game.
Reports on Smith playing in a primarily predicated read offense are overblown. Smith can read a defense and work through progressions. I've watched him work through them frequently, and I counted predicated reads versus progression reads. Dana Holgorsen did run a gimmicky offense, but he asked Smith to make progression reads on well over half of West Virginia's passing plays.
Smith has a ton of development to do in reading progressions against advanced defenses. The Big 12 Conference has been running, and defending, Air Raid style offenses for the better part of the past decade. Big 12 defenses have become very adept at taking away the shorter reads and covering the high-low reads that come with an Air Raid scheme. Smith shredded the first five defenses he faced, then got lost in disguised coverages against Texas Tech, Kansas State, and Texas Christian. It took him nearly three games to begin to figure the defenses out - time that neither Smith nor West Virginia had.
When Smith struggled, he forced throws out of frustration, and sped through progressions too fast. He was pressing, trying to compensate for his terrible defense and a lopsided scoreboard, and made mistakes. That said, West Virginia did not employ complex passing progressions, and Smith misread defenses a lot. On top of that, Smith holds onto mistakes too long, which causes him to continue to press.
While Smith is fantastic at moving and resetting, his "set" isn't very good. He bounces on his toes in the pocket, which isn't a good position to throw from - you want a good, stable base. He's not smooth mechanically. His bouncing and other non-necessary movement gets him out of sync with receivers. He doesn't stand tall and still in the pocket when he can, and when he should. And he's never operated from under center.
While Smith is a wonderful athlete, and gobbles up yards when he runs, he isn't sturdy like Manuel or Nassib. He has thin legs and doesn't have the frame to take a pounding. His desire to stick in the pocket should minimize this, but it's a concern. Smith's hands are small, and he has 32 career fumbles.
Smith is a project whose best football should be ahead of him. When the light goes on for Smith, you get games like the 2011 Orange Bowl, where he tore Clemson to pieces. Even in some of his 2012 losses, he wasn't playing that poorly, and aside from the Texas Tech and Kansas State games, he put up points, and lots of them. He's got the right talent mix to become a great NFL passer.
Smith needs to work on reading complex NFL coverages. He got a shotgun course in disguised coverages in the Big12 this past season, and after he started to get a feel for it, he played better. The NFL is going to be a lot harder, and Smith can't play right away. Smith needs to go a team that doesn't start him right away, and lets him cut his teeth on defenses in practice. Once he starts, that team needs to simplify the offense early on, let him adjust, and continue to give more to him in increments. This isn't uncommon - Ben Roethlisberger and even Tom Brady broke in this way.
At the top of Smith's game, when he understands his offense and can read the defense, you see games like the Texas game, where he weathered a great pass rush against a talented team and played a very good game. But it's going to take a while to get Smith to that level again. He needs a re-education on playing quarterback against complex coverages. A team that rushes him probably flirts with disaster, ending up with another first round quarterback flop. A team with a long-term plan which breaks in Smith slowly could end up with a heck of a quarterback.