Senior NFL Columnist

Geno Smith has potential but not the overall game to be a top-10 pick

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At the league meetings earlier this month, I asked two general managers I respect greatly to assess the quarterback class in this year's draft, and both had similar responses.

They don't like it.

"Are we trying to like these guys more than we should?" one of the general managers said. "I don't love any of them."

Not even Geno Smith?

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2013 NFL Draft

"No, not even him," he said. "I want the guy at the top to jump out at me on tape, the wow plays, the big throws, the kind of guy you know will be your guy for the next 10 years. I don't see that from him. Can he be good? I am not sure he can. Can he be special? Doubt it. And if you are taking that guy at the top, you want special."

I watched a lot of Smith on Saturdays during the college season. He looked impressive. He had a good arm, made a lot of nice throws and led a high-flying offense at West Virginia.

So as I dove into his tape this week, I did so with an open mind. Were these general managers being too harsh? Was all the talk that Geno Smith should be a top-5 pick accurate?

After studying him closely, I will say this: There is a lot to like, but if I were the GM making the pick Smith wouldn't be my choice in the top 10 or even the top 20.

There are too many flaws.

In fairness to Smith, he played behind a horrible offensive line at West Virginia last year. He was pressured on a regular basis. But the flip side is he played with two outstanding receivers in Tavon Austin, a likely first-round pick, and Steadman Bailey, a likely second-round pick.

In the games I studied, Smith made some impressive throws. He also did some nice things when he moved away from pressure. He moved and reloaded without running. I like that.

But I wanted to like him a lot more than I did. I am a quarterback guy. This league is all about them now. They are 70 percent of the game.

I just didn't get that from Smith. I didn't see a future star. Maybe work can change that. But only time will tell. Here is breakdown of what I saw after studying Smith in several categories.

Arm Strength

When I watched him on television, I thought Smith had a big, powerful arm. After studying his tape, I will say his arm is just OK. He can make all the throws, but there are too many plays where he doesn't seem to have the zip you want from a big-time passer.

That doesn't mean his arm isn't NFL good enough. It certainly is that. But it would have to rank in the middle of the league's passers in terms of arm strength right now. Good, not great.

There were several plays where it appeared he tried to use just his arm, rather than stepping into throws. That's when the ball fell short or skipped to a receiver. I saw him do that on several deep outs.

He also seemed to try and finesse the deep balls, rather than sticking them with a nice throw. Sometimes, he got away with it because of the speed of the college defensive backs. But that won't work in the NFL. He has to be stronger with those throws and drive the football.

He threw a touchdown pass to Bailey against Texas Tech, and even that looked to be a little more of a touch pass than it should have been.

He did make a nice strong throw inside against Oklahoma State to Ryan Nehlen for a touchdown, showing off his arm as he fit it between two defenders. So he can do it. I think some of the problems are from his mechanics, when he just tries to use his arm.

Toughness

This is one area that impressed me. He took a beating at times, but kept getting up and making plays. It's tough to play quarterback behind a line as bad as he had. The pressure was relentless at times.

What I really liked was when I watched him scramble. Smith kept his head up and made plays when he scrambled. This wasn't a quarterback who just tucked it and ran. There were times, however, when he felt what I call "phantom" pressure. There wasn't anyone around him, but he felt it and moved out of the pocket.

That could be because of the poor line up front and the many shots he took. But that's not a good thing. You have to stay on the spot as long as you can if there isn't anybody flushing you out.

But this isn't an area of concern for the most part. He keeps his eyes down the field when the pressure is coming at him. And he can move and reset to throw without taking off to run. That's a plus.

Ability to see the field

Smith does move his head from side-to-side when he is reading the field. I like that. For a young player, he did a solid job at times coming off receivers. But there were other times where I wanted more.

There seemed to be times where he just wouldn't pull the trigger on an open receiver, and came off to a safer throw. That would scare me moving forward. You have to take the chances when they are there.

One such play came against Oklahoma State. On that play, he play-faked to a back out of the shotgun, then faked a reverse to Austin from left to right and set up to throw. He had Bailey wide open in the middle in front of the safeties and behind the linebacker who took a false step on the reverse fake. But he didn't throw it.

He also had J.D. Woods deep on the right sideline wide open, but never threw it. He instead waited for Austin to get into the right flat and he threw it to him for a short gain. That was a safe decision. That isn't what top-level quarterbacks do.

Another time against Iowa State, he had Austin wide open on a cross and held it too long. Eventually, Austin crossed the field and Smith tried to hit him with a soft throw that was easily batted away.

Mechanics

This was a trouble spot for me. His footwork needs a lot of work. He just seemed to use his arm for too many throws. That's a problem. A good quarterback has to step into his throws. That's where the velocity comes from most of the time. Too many times Smith didn't use his legs the right way. And his passes floated.

Most of these bad throws came on intermediate or deep passes. He did a nice job of setting and firing on the short passes. That isn't to say he won't drive it some of the time, but I saw some bad habits.

Against Iowa State, he had Bailey on a deep post for what should have been an easy score. But he tried to touch pass the ball with his arm and it floated. Bailey made a nice adjustment to make the catch for a big gain, but that should have been a touchdown.

Smith has worked to improve his footwork, and scouts at his Pro Day said it was noticeably better. But what happens in the heat of the battle? Does he go back to being more of an arm thrower?

Accuracy

This was a problem at times. Some of it, like I said above, is due to the poor mechanics. But some of it was waiting to throw to open windows all the time. The anticipation wasn't there. You have to feel receivers coming open. At times, Smith seemed to wait and wait and wait and wait.

This is a danger area for NFL quarterbacks. Windows are small and they open and shut quickly. He has to be better at anticipating them coming open, not waiting for them to do so. Some scouts wonder if he can improve that.

At other times, Smith would come off his primary receiver and throw to the other side and skip a pass because he didn't use his body the right way.

There were too many times where I expected passes on the receiver's hands, but they were a little off the target, and the receiver was forced to make a tough catch.

Summary

Smith is a case of a guy being forced up the draft boards. I would take him in the second round. He is in need of some refining. I hear he's a great kid who loves to put in the work, which could make the transition a lot easier. But as far as a top-10 pick, I wouldn't do it. There are simply too many flaws in terms of what I want from my quarterback on the next level. There is growth potential with this kid, but that's not what you want when you draft a kid high in the first round. I just wanted to see more.


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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