Everyone who follows a morsel of football should be familiar with West Virginia’s Geno Smith by now. He’s the best quarterback in the 2013 draft class, some say. No, he’s the most inconsistent ever, others say. Some just don’t know what to think of Smith; they’re being pulled in each direction and don’t really know what to make of a quarterback who threw the least amount of interceptions among his fellow prospects but the most amount of throws behind the line of scrimmage.
It’s that kind of draft class.
From afar, Smith appears to have the necessary physical tools. He’s tall enough at 6’2 3/8″, he weighs 218 pounds, and he has a strong arm that’s deadly accurate when he throws deep balls. He’s athletic and shows the foot quickness to manipulate the pocket. He’s also usually accurate and sometimes flashes brilliance in reading the defense. He’s made great back-shoulder throws in one down territory against tight coverage where only the receiver can get it.
And then he’s made many throws that leave you scratching your head. They’ve led to interceptions that are truly questionable decisions, an apparent lack of understanding when trying to read a defense on the backside of a play, and worst of all, tragic footwork.
He tends to bounce at the top of his drops and fail to step through his throws, which really causes his arm strength to come off as poor. It’s why many have questioned whether Smith has the arm strength to make all the necessary throws at the next level. In my mind he does without a doubt, but he must improve his footwork if he’s going to make them consistently. After all, consistency is what will determine how long he holds the starting quarterback position on his new team.
Overall consistency is something that Smith had issues with during his final season at West Virginia. A part of his inconsistency was his inability to keep the football while operating in the pocket. He fumbled the ball on numerous occasions when facing pressure, which he handled in an odd manner.
Typically when quarterbacks are faced with pressure from the backside or blindside, they handle it pretty well because their instincts tell them to move, which they’re able to do with quick-footed movements in the pocket. On the other hand, most quarterbacks struggle when they see the pressure directly in their face, such as interior pressure. Interior pressure forces them to move off their ideal and initial throwing platform and potentially make a throw on the move.
With Smith, it’s the opposite.
He actually handles interior pressure pretty well based off of my studies. However, he struggles with pressure from the backside because he appears to lack the awareness and instincts that tell him to get off his spot. Many refer to this as a lacking a ”clock” in the head, which Smith appears to indeed lack at times. It’s why he has fumbled the ball on several occasions when faced with this sort of pressure, as seen in a game against Kansas State at the :45 second mark below.
On that first quarter 3rd-and-6 play, Smith drops back and holds the ball properly. He has it tight to his chest with both hands on it, forming a triangle with his elbows and the ball. This is what quarterback coaches teach their players to do while in the pocket. As the play unfolds, the left end flies up field and strips Smith of the ball despite proper technique. Fortunately he recovered the fumble, but he didn’t have the same luck against Texas.
On 3rd-and-14 (3:21 mark), Smith took a quick drop back and surveyed the field. As he stood at the top of his drop, pressure closed in from the outside. But he didn’t budge; instead, Smith stood still in the pocket, failing to climb it and he was stripped of the football. Texas recovered, and the West Virginia offense trotted off the field.
It’s tough to say whether Smith’s fumbles can be corrected. Coaches may look to have him keep the ball closer to his chin, as he sometimes drops it as he climbs the pocket. But that still may not correct his lack of awareness and instincts. Along with his ball security or lack thereof, he’ll have to continue to improve his footwork and understanding of defenses.
Despite the issues above, Smith is likely to be considered a first-round pick because of his arm strength, deep ball accuracy, and mobility.
For more on Geno Smith, check out my post at Rotoworld.com