The last six months for Geno Smith have been a wild ride. In 2011, West Virginia put billboards around town boasting the team’s 70-33 victory over Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Last season was a much different scene. The Mountaineers earn a trip to the Pinstripe Bowl only to be downed by Syracuse 38-14.
Smith moves on. He shows up to the NFL Combine and beats all QBs in the 40-yard dash (4.59) and broad jump, tying Andrew Luck’s 10-foot-4 leap last year, and records the second-highest vertical jump among his peers (33.5).
But when the scouting report is released, he is disappointed again. Nolan Nawrocki paints him as a meek leader with minimal drive. He highlights a “nonchalant field presence — does not command respect from teammates and cannot inspire”, “mild practice demeanor”, and “not committed or focused — marginal work ethic.”
As to why Smith’s name has been thrown into the mix of so many draft analyses, Nawrocki chalked that up to Smith being “an overhyped product of the system.”
So goes the ebb and flow of emotions held by players entering the big leagues. Those ups and downs shouldn’t be given too much gravity, however, which is why Smith’s reaction to Nawrocki’s report is so telling. Smith’s decision to retaliate verbally, similar to a child complaining to his mother his older brother isn’t sharing, justifies his current standing among QBs in the draft — most mock drafts now rank him in sixth.
To Smith’s credit, Nawrocki is a member of the media, not associated with an NFL team, and has been known to rip players apart (see Cam Newton circa 2011). Smith’s work ethic has never been disputed by football insiders and is even known for being an avid student of game film.
But when Robert Griffin III bemoaned how hard he was being hit by opposing offenses, he merely highlighted his amateurishness. Professional football players need to be as tough in mind as they are in body, and Smith may have lost that self-portrayal in this unfortunate instance.
Smith will have to hope his numbers will speak for themselves. His athleticism at the Combine was impressive, and his rank in each category puts him in good company, including the aforementioned Griffin who, of course, eventually settled in to NFL-level play.
Looking solely at the numbers, Smith is the top QB going into the fast-approaching draft. But, his numbers drop off when you look at the big picture. In any sport, big numbers in solo activities like jumps and dashes won’t hold water with a player who can’t jump over a pile and into the endzone, nor will it for a player whose dash is muted by an NFL-level defensive stand.
The numbers will bear well for Smith, but factors like reputation and graceful leave of the NCAA, or lack thereof, will boost or denigrate a player’s draft standing as well.
Smith opted not to play in the Senior Bowl and the Mountaineers’ lopsided loss to Syracuse will not go unnoticed, nor will the fact that Smith was at the helm. Smith will be a good fit for teams looking to increase their proficiency at the QB position, but not for teams looking for a successful overhaul in that position.