What I like-There is so much to get excited about when you watch Smith play. When he is on his game, everyone else seems to be in slow motion. His decision making is accelerated, his mechanics are better, his release is even quicker and the windows he can squeeze the football into are tiny. Smith’s strength is in his short and intermediate game. He makes quick reads and gets the football out of his hand in a hurry. In today’s NFL so much of the offensive success is centered on rhythm, and Smith is very much a rhythmic quarterback. Once he gets rolling with that short and intermediate passing game he can put a defense on its heels in a hurry.
Smith went through a tough stretch during the season, but even when things were going wrong for him, you could see facets of his game that were still near elite. First is his pocket presence. Part of Smith’s slump was because his receivers struggled to get open and that allowed opposing defenses to get to Smith more than usual. What I saw in those instances, even when he didn’t make the best throw was he did a nice job of anticipating the pressure and either using his sneaky athleticism to escape, or more often just stood in there and took it, and still did his best to deliver the football. And no matter what was happening with his team, I never felt like he wasn’t in charge and had the respect of his teammates. That’s not to say he’s not an emotional competitor because he is, but even then he still looks confident.
From a pure x’s and o’s standpoint, Smith does a lot of the little things very well. The offense he’s in never seemed to require a lot of extended reads, but you could still see him looking off safeties, pulling linebackers with his eyes and then delivering the football. And speaking of delivering the football, I’ve never had a problem with the velocity Smith has. No, he’s not going to throw it 70 yards in the air, but it’s about that middle range where he can deliver the football with some heat, and he does it with excellent anticipation, often before receivers come out of their breaks, and before they release into a void in a zone defense. It’s so cliche to say the throws a very catchable ball, but that’s exactly what he does. Part of the reason those West Virginia receivers were able to amass so many yards was Smith delivered the football to them on time, to the proper spot so they were often at full speed at the catch.
What’s not to like-A couple of things about Smith really stand out to me. First, his size is not ideal. This isn’t a huge concern, but he’s built like an NBA shooting guard and appears a little thin and so the issue of durability is there for me. But the real concern for me is in his mechanics and footwork. Even when Smith isn’t under center he doesn’t carry the ball high enough. What happens with him is it causes him to have varying release points. That’s not a bad thing on it’s own, but it causes his footwork to get lazy. When he has to really put some zip on it, and he lets that throwing elbow drop he will whip that bag foot, and it causes him to sail his deep passes. Even on intermediate routes when he does that little leg whip and depending on where his arm is at the time he will either overthrow the receiver or if his elbow is too high, the nose of the ball gets too low too fast.
It is important to note, however, that his footwork and mechanics problems are fixable and could be coached out of him. But sort of like with a golf swing, most of the time it really works, so you hate to tweak things too much. But still there are some things, especially from the waist down he’s got to get better at. I want to see him do more straight drops, set his feet and keep that football up by his ear. Step up in the pocket to avoid pressure rather than work laterally and make throws deep downfield.
What it all means-Smith excels because from the neck up it just doesn’t get any better. He’s a cerebral type of quarterback who understands the nuance of the game, and because he’s adamant about film study and improvement, allows him to make the game look easy to him at times. He plays fast, even when it doesn’t look like it. This also includes his legs. During his time at West Virginia he had some runs that would make any zone read quarterback proud. That is an untapped resource that only increases his draft stock. He can’t operate in just any system as his deep accuracy is poor, but he is much more than a catch and run West Coast Offense type of player. In a draft that doesn’t have that sure thing type of player at really any position, what Smith brings to the table is enticing. The fact that he’s so physically gifted while at the same time so intelligent and competitive really gives teams picking at the top of the round who need a quarterback something to think about.