The Rise and Fall of Geno Smith as the Top QB Prospect in the 2013 NFL Draft

Ryan McCrystal@@ryan_mccrystalFeatured ColumnistFebruary 20, 2013

West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is one of the top quarterback prospects in the 2013 NFL draft, and a potential top-10 pick.

But how did he get here?

The Geno Smith story starts back in Miramar, Fla., where he was regarded as one of the top prep quarterbacks in the state while playing for former West Virginia Mountaineer Damon Cogdell

After a strong high school career, during which he finished second in the Mr. Florida football voting in 2007, Smith was rated by as the third-best dual-threat quarterback in the nation. 

But despite a strong prep career and high expectations upon joining the Mountaineers, Smith's college career got off to a modest start. As a freshman in 2009, he played sparingly behind senior Jarrett Brown.

But in 2010, it was Smith's turn to take over.

As a true sophomore, Smith played under head coach Bill Stewart, who ran an offense similar to his predecessor, Rich Rodriguez. 

And while Smith experienced some success under Stewart—nearly 2,800 yards passing, 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions—it wasn't until the innovative Dana Holgorsen took over in 2011 that Smith began to establish himself as an elite college quarterback. 

Due in part to Holgorsen's influence, Smith entered his senior year on the radar screen of NFL scouts. He debuted at No. 5 on Mel Kiper's list of top senior quarterbacks (Insider content) but was left off his initial big board.

But it wasn't until Smith began to light up the scoreboards in the Big 12 that people began to take notice of his true NFL potential. 

By late September, the Smith bandwagon was filling up with supporters, including Bleacher Report's Matt Miller.

Totally convinced that Geno Smith is the best QB prospect in this class.

— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) September 22, 2012

But now that Smith's college career has come to a close and the dust has settled on his record-setting senior year, his stock seems to be falling. 

In a span of just a few months, Smith has gone from Heisman front-runner and potential top overall pick to now just hoping to come off the board in the top 10. 

In fact, on a recent media conference call, Kiper stated that Smith wasn't even a part of the Chiefs' discussion about who to take at No. 1. 

Kiper: I can definitively say right now there is no QB in the discussion for the No. 1 pick.

— Dan Kadar (@MockingTheDraft) February 13, 2013

So what happened?

While Smith emerged as an elite college quarterback under the tutelage of Holgorsen, it's also Holgersen's offense that may have been holding him back.

The Mountaineers' high-flying offense put up impressive numbers with Smith at the helm the past two seasons, but it isn't a terribly complicated scheme. As a result, there isn't a lot of film available that demonstrates Smith's ability to play at the next level.

When scouting quarterback prospects, I chart their games against the best defenses they face. This gives us the best picture of who they are under pressure, while removing the padded stats posted against lower-level competition. 

One of the stats I chart is the distance of each pass attempt. 

This statistic can be used in a variety of ways, but in Smith's case, it shows us just how few NFL throws he was asked to make at West Virginia. 

The chart below shows the percentage of pass attempts broken down by distance of five of the top quarterbacks in this year's class. 

Percentage of Pass Attempts by Air Yards in Games Charted (min. 3 games per QB) 
Yards G. Smith M. Barkley R. Nassib M. Glennon T. Wilson
20+ yards  10.6 13.0 11.4 15.9  19.0 
10-19 yards  28.4 23.4  29.8  28.3  16.2 
1-9 yards  34.8 36.5  49.1  46.2  57.1 
0 or neg. yards  26.2 27.1 9.6 9.7 7.6

The most glaring statistic in this chart is the percentage of Smith's attempts that didn't even cross the line of scrimmage (this is also a knock against Barkley).

For the most part, this was out of Smith's control, so it doesn't necessarily hurt his draft stock. However, it does limit the ability of scouts to assess his potential as the leader of an NFL offense. 

You can count ESPN's Todd McShay among those questioning Smith, particularly his ability to read defenses. McShay recently stated that Smith "does not always process information fast enough." (h/t

Due to Smith's aforementioned lack of experience, no one really knows how he'll adjust to life in the NFL. As a result, his draft grade is essentially a guess as to how quickly he'll process an NFL playbook and develop the skills necessary to compete against NFL defenses. 

No one is questioning Smith's raw talent—even McShay said Smith was "probably the best all-around quarterback in this class."

But Smith's college career has provided scouts with an incomplete picture of a quarterback.

For this reason, Smith is one of the most intriguing and risky prospects in the 2013 draft class. He certainly belongs in the discussion of top quarterback prospects, but only time will tell if he can take his raw potential and turn it into actual NFL success.


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