2013 NFL Combine: Smith, Barkley lobby to prove worth for top billing
The 2013 NFL Draft is generally considered to lack elite QB talent, but don't tell that to experienced - and confident - Geno Smith and Matt Barkley.
INDIANAPOLIS - West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith doesn't feel qualified to assess where he rates in the 2013 NFL Draft.
"That's not for me to say, not having played a single down in the NFL," said Smith.
He is sure he's ready to lead. The oldest of five children, he has seven years of experience as a starting quarterback - four in high school, three at WVU - and played extensively in several varied offensive systems. If a team wants him to stand in the pocket and fire 50 passes in a game, he's done it. Want to sprinkle in the en vogue read-option offense? Done that too.
"I've played in three different systems in college,'' Smith said. "That's something I've always been capable of. I think I have the skill set to fit in any offense.
"I'm athletic enough to run that (read-option) style of offense."
Smith's strength is picking apart defenses with short, high-percentage passes. He passed on participating in the 2013 Senior Bowl in January because he said people he trusts advised him strongly not to play in the game. But Smith will be one of the quarterbacks, along with Florida State's EJ Manuel, going through the complete gauntlet of drills and tests on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday.
"I can't expect to prove any of those people wrong without even playing a down in the NFL. My only expectation is to become as polished as I possibly can when I enter into the NFL and compete and be a competitor, that's all I know how to do," Smith said. "Once I set foot on a team and I'm drafted, I'm going to come in with the same mentality. It's not going to change. I'm going to continue to grow as an athlete and a person."
Scouts have to break down just how much of Smith's success is a byproduct of his understanding of what defenses will do and mastery of the offense he ran. There are opinions that discredit some of Smith's production as being a product of the same system that made NFL non-factors of college stats machines such as Colt Brennan of Hawaii and Texas Tech's Cliff Kingsbury. Even the passive football observer took notice of Smith by Week 4 of the 2012 season. He completed 45 of 51 passes for 656 yards with eight touchdowns, zero interceptions and five carries for 31 yards in an epic shootout victory over Baylor. His passer rating that day in Morgantown was 248.0.
Smith had 25 touchdowns without a single interception through six games in head coach Dana Holgorsen's "Air Raid" shotgun spread offense. Smith's statistical decline, and the fall of West Virginia from BCS contender to out of the Top 25 rankings, from that point to the season-ending bowl loss to Syracuse had a lot to do with injuries and in some part was caused by the Mountaineers' first run in a new conference.
"The main thing I learned was that to stop whatever goes on, in my position as the leader of the team, I've got to set the bar and lead by example," Smith said.
Another senior, Southern Cal's Matt Barkley, is Smith's top competition to be the first quarterback drafted in April. But Barkley, still recovering from a shoulder injury suffered in November, won't participate in football drills or athletic tests Sunday.
Barkley, who measured in slightly taller than expected at 6-feet-2 and weighed 227 pounds with 10-1/8 inch hands, said he is "100 percent on track" to throw at his March 27 Pro Day at Southern Cal.
Not surprisingly, Barkley disagreed with the notion among some in the scouting community that he lacks the arm strength to be highly successful in the NFL.
"I think there's always something to prove," he said. "I think you're always looking for ways to better yourself. At this point in my career, there's definitely things I can improve on. There's always something to improve. It seems right now that I'm kind of working my way up as opposed to already being on the top, which is a position -- I've been in both cases before. There's always something to prove, and I'm out to prove something."
Barkley, who started 47 games in a pro-style offense, completed 64 percent of his passes for 12,327 yards and 116 touchdowns and 48 interceptions with the Trojans. He was thought to be a top 10 pick in the 2012 class that produced Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III before he opted to return to Los Angeles for one more season.
"I learned a lot from this last year that you can't teach in a classroom," said Barkley. "You have to learn through experience, in regards to handling adversity at its peak, really finding the motivation to get guys going in the locker room, in the huddle, on the practice field when you're not playing for postseason. This year especially, with the early loss to Stanford ... we weren't expecting it. It allowed me to kind of step up and be that voice when guys didn't really know where to look. You can't really teach some of that stuff. So I've had to learn through experience over the years about leadership. Definitely I think I'm in a better position now than I was last year."
NFLDraftScout.com ranks Smith the No. 15 overall prospect in the '13 class as one of six likely to be drafted in the first two rounds: Barkley (18th), North Carolina State's Mike Glennon (29), Arkansas' Tyler Wilson (42), Ryan Nassib (49) of Syracuse and Manuel (61).
--Collin Klein is rated as a fringe draft prospect by NFLDraftScout.com and most every analyst across the country, but the Heisman Trophy finalist from Kansas State hasn't wavered in his pursuit of playing quarterback in the NFL.
He declined a request to work out with the tight ends at the scouting combine this week, and isn't entertaining any thoughts of switching positions to increase his potential of making an NFL roster.
"I want to pursue every door that I possibly can at quarterback, and until everyone one of those are close I'm not considering anything else," said Klein. "That's my heart, I know I have the tools to do that. I know I'll bring a lot to the team at that position."
He has been working with former NFL quarterback Jake Plummer, focusing on improving his mechanics and footwork. But the one thing Klein has never doubted is his arm and physical skill set to succeed at the position.
"I have all the confidence I can make every throw that needs to be made," said Klein, who was asked his three best traits as a quarterback. "I'd say my mental approach to the game, and preparation, I.Q., is one; I'd say my tools, my arm and my legs, which I feel are under-rated; and toughness that permeates an entire football team that we're very detail oriented and do whatever it takes to win a football game."
--Nassib was highlighted by NFLDraftScout.com's Dane Brugler as one of the prospects who stood to gain the most from the combine experience.
The No. 5-rated quarterback in the class by NDS, Nassib knows the competition is tight among the top prospects at the position.
"There may not be a Luck or RGIII, but there are quite a few very talented quarterbacks (in this draft class)," said Nassib. "Guys have a chance to separate themselves here. It's going to be a tight race."
Nassib has been working in the film room with long-time NFL offensive coach Paul Hackett, while former NFL quarterback Ken Anderson has been working with Nassib on his mechanics and footwork.
--The athletic testing will hit full speed Saturday, but Friday's action included the 225-pound bench-press for offensive linemen and tight ends. See the results here.
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