Each Tuesday of the NFL season NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst Rob Rang will identify his Rookie of the Week. To qualify, the first-year professional player must have played a significant role in a competitive NFL game, demonstrating not just flashes of talent but the potential to emerge as a legitimate long-term standout. The player's draft status - whether as a former first round pick or undrafted free agent - does not apply.
NFL Rookie of Week One: New York Jets' QB Geno Smith
It is the nature of the quarterback position to earn too much credit when things are going well and too much blame when the losses mount. With the Jets a surprising 2-1 after three games, Geno Smith has been characterized as everything from the "savior" to "overrated."
With the Buffalo Bills and their rookie quarterback EJ Manuel traveling to face New York in a key divisional showdown featuring the first two passers drafted in 2013, it was Smith who played better and guided his team to a big win in front of the home crowd.
While one could argue that fellow rookies Ziggy Ansah (Detroit; seven tackles, two sacks, forced fumble vs. Redskins), Giovani Bernard (Cincinnati; 99 all-purpose yards, one TD), and DeAndre Hopkins (Houston; game-high six receptions vs. Baltimore) were every bit as impressive on a snap to snap basis for their respective clubs, no one was more critical to his team's win than Smith, who contributed to all three of the Jets' touchdowns in the 27-20 victory over Buffalo.
Smith was far from perfect in the Jets' win. He threw two costly interceptions and both were typical rookie mistakes in which he forced the ball into double coverage. However, he also threw four passes of over 40 yards, a feat no Jets' quarterback since Ken O'Brien (1991) had accomplished in a single game, according to Kimberly Martin of Newsday. All in all, Smith completed 16 of 29 passes for 331 yards and two touchdowns. He scored the Jets' first touchdown of the game on an eight yard run in the first quarter to give New York the lead.
Smith left West Virginia as NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated quarterback in the 2013 draft. His quick release and accuracy were lauded by scouts but there were questions about his poise, willingness to make aggressive throws against tight bump and run coverage and overall athleticism. Perhaps most impressive in this contest was that Smith showed improvement since college in each of these three areas.
The Bills' cornerbacks frequently challenged the Jets' receivers with tight bump and run coverage in this contest, inviting the rookie quarterback to attempt to beat them over the top. He did so on each of his two touchdown tosses, completing a 51-yard pass to Stephen Hill in the second quarter and a 69-yarder to Santonio Holmes to put New York up for good with 9:24 remaining in the fourth quarter. Each pass was perfectly placed over the left shoulder of his receiver, allowing the tightly covered wideouts to make plays on the ball and use their athleticism to continue to gain yardage (and ultimately score) after hauling in the well-thrown ball.
Smith's strike to Holmes wound up being the game-winner and the timing of the throw was critical. The Bills had seemingly seized momentum just moments earlier with Manuel hitting tight end Scott Chandler for a 33-yard touchdown and then wideout Stevie Johnson for the game-tying two-point conversion.
Instead, Smith and the Jets erased the tie with their own score just two scrimmage plays later.
The Jets' win was all the more impressive considering that New York committed a team-record 20 penalties in the game. No team has been flagged this many times and won since the Cleveland Browns beat the Chicago Bears in 1951, despite drawing 21 penalties.
Smith and the Jets travel this week to Tennessee, where New York will face a gutty Titans squad, who at 2-1, is flying high after a fourth quarter comeback victory of their own last week to beat San Diego.
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