After free-agency shakeout, Geno a lock to be picked in top five


Geno Smith will be a top-five draft pick. There isn't any doubt about it.

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see him go in the top three. Specifically, to Jacksonville second overall.

There might finally be some real intrigue about which player goes first overall -- I would be stunned if the Chiefs don't take a left tackle assuming they can't trade the pick -- and it is one of the more interesting drafts in recent memory in that regard. But this idea that no quarterback gets drafted high, now, with so many quarterbacks changing teams and clubs trading for, or signing veterans, is misguided.

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2013 NFL Draft

Too many teams have too much legitimate interest in Smith, the standout from West Virginia. In reality, with the quarterback dust essentially settled now in terms of free agency and trades, Smith's stock will only rise the rest of this month. He has certain undeniable traits working in his favor, there remain a ton of teams that still are anything but settled on a quarterback on a long-term basis, and these top draft picks are just so damn cheap these days that it will continue to entice teams to try to trade into the top five.

So anyone pretending that because Carson Palmer and Matt Flynn now have new teams that somehow Geno Smith has been devalued just don't get it. Anyone who thinks that the Cardinals, with the seventh overall pick, are now deeply committed to Palmer as their future at quarterback, and the Raiders, picking third, are now married to Flynn, and Kevin Kolb is the solution for the Bills, etc., etc., either haven't taken a real look at those contracts or simply do not understand the difference between taking a flier on a guy to be a bridge quarterback and finding a new face of the franchise.

Let's keep the following in mind:

Smith is, without a doubt, the top quarterback prospect in this draft. Period. No debate. Nothing he has done between his final college game and his pro day has changed that. He is the only sure-fire quarterback prospect in the top half of the first round. Even his harshest, most simplistic critic -- you know, the kind of guy who would lob the same shoddy jabs at Smith this week that he lobbed a few years back at Cam Newton -- would have to admit that unlike most of the past few years, there is no 1B to Smith's 1A. He is it at the top of the first round. (And, for the record, teams that have done their work on Smith have no concerns about character or work ethic. It's rather ludicrous in this situation.)

That will do nothing but continue to push up his value.

Once he's selected, it's a total crapshoot at this position, and when you consider that a good quarter of the league would still love to upgrade at quarterback if they could, that, too, works in Smith's favor. And we need only look back and see how quarterbacks with some glaring warts, like Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert, have been pushed up the draft board recently to see just how far teams are willing to reach if they need a passer.

Then, consider how smart the Panthers (Newton), Seahawks (Russell Wilson), 49ers (Colin Kaepernick), Bengals (Andy Dalton), Redskins (Robert Griffin III) and others look for finding quarterbacks under this new CBA at a drastically reduced rate, freeing them to pump cap space and assets en masse into other positions.

It's basically bust insurance for teams. So when you consider how cheap the player is, and how relatively cheap it can be to move up into the top 10 or top five to get there ... again, these are factors that will continue to pump Smith up. And, keep in mind how many teams in the top 10, and five, are willing to move down, and Smith remains a riser.

Furthermore, this might be the weakest class in 20 years in terms of top-five talent. In fact, many scouts would tell you it's a three-player draft in that range -- the two left tackles (Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher) and Smith. It's not loaded with once-in-a-generation talent or the next Orlando Pace or Jonathan Ogden or Adrian Peterson. So there will be demand to get one of these three players, and there are plenty of needy teams, and say what you want about the knocks on these three prospects, but there is even more uncertainty and bigger question marks about whoever is worthy of going fourth, or fifth or sixth.

Sure, the Chiefs won't take Smith (not after overpaying the 49ers to acquire Alex Smith), and I know some are saying all of the attention the Jaguars have spent with him is a bit of a smokescreen. But then again, the Jags' new brass has no ties to Gabbert, they just watched him get two coaches fired in two years, more or less, and yet they opted to stay out of the hunt for Flynn (who has ties to their head coach), and Kolb, whom they loved coming out of college, and Smith (whose quarterback coach in San Fran, Greg Roman, is very good friends with Jags GM Dave Caldwell), and Palmer and others. That's very telling. (And don't give me any of this crap about backup Chad Henne -- he's just a guy).

In fact, everything I have heard leads me to believe the real smoke screen is the idea that there has been a rallying behind Gabbert. To the contrary, his sense of entitlement, lack of production/development, attitude, and struggles in the face of the pass rush are just some of the reasons why he might never see the fourth year of his rookie contract in Jacksonville. So the Jags are very much in the hunt for their next quarterback, they won't do any better than Smith in this draft, they're likely to be the first quarterback-needy team with the chance to take him, and passing on him could prove to be a huge mistake.

So I believe the Jags are spending all of this time, energy and resources on him for a reason beyond hoping to drum up interest in the second overall pick. How could a small-market team like this, desperate for an identity and someone for fans to gravitate to, not be interested in the best amateur quarterback in the country? How could they not look at a fellow small market team like the Panthers, with Newton, and not think what if? (And by no means am I saying that Smith will do anything close to what Newton has, but the continued success of athletic rookie quarterbacks is not going unnoticed.)

And the Raiders are in the same situation. Flynn is a guy for now, and possibly for tomorrow, but any quarterback you can nab essentially for a fifth-round pick can't be a given. I'm not ruling them out. Do I think the Eagles take him? My gut says no, but they're not doing all of this due diligence on him as a favor, either. Michael Vick is a year-to-year proposition, Nick Foles is a developmental guy most likely, and if Smith looks like the best fit to be Chip Kelly's long-term guy, then it could happen.

The Browns (6), Cardinals (7), Bills (8) and Jets (9) are both dealing with band-aid quarterbacks but don't have a long-term commitment to any passer. I'm sorry, people, that looks like a ton of demand and the most limited of supply -- one quarterback worthy of being taken in the top 10. Bluff or not, that's more than enough of a backdrop to make at least one team feel like it might have to trade up to guarantee it gets Smith.

How silly will all of these teams look if they pass on a chance to take him? It's just not happening.

So to posit that this kid someone now is a question mark to go in the top 15 is beyond ridiculous. No way that many teams are passing on him, and in the end, a few names might be called before his at Radio City Music Hall, but trust me, it will only be a few.

Before joining CBS Sports, Jason La Canfora was the Washington Redskins beat writer for The Washington Post for six years and served as NFL Network's insider. The Baltimore native can be seen every Sunday during the season on The NFL Today.

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