When the first round came to a close on Thursday evening, though, Smith—in attendance for the event in New York City after being personally invited by the NFL—had yet to be drafted, becoming the latest victim of the green-room slide.
Following the NFL combine and individual workouts, there was talk of Smith going to the Eagles with the fourth pick—a rumor that, to be fair, dissipated as the draft got closer. It should be noted that the Eagles chatter came with the caveat that Smith wouldn't get past the Jaguars with the second pick.
Did anyone think Smith would actually go No. 2 or No. 4? Probably not, but it's hard to believe a player could have so many rumors near the top of the first round and end up going undrafted after the event's first day.
The Vikings acquired three first-round picks and feature a quarterback in Christian Ponder who, let's face it, proved to be their weakest link last season. Still, the most logical rumor had Smith going to the Bills after he met with the team leading up to draft day.
The Bills took Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel instead, a complete surprise in the first round. While Smith's stock had started to fall back in line with his pre-workout grade—mid-to-late first round—he was still regarded as a better prospect than Manuel.
That's probably when the panic started to set in.
Every team picking outside the top 10—other than the Bills and, as stated, maybe the Vikings—was set at quarterback for the near future. When Smith wasn't picked at No. 16 in lieu of a different quarterback, the first-round slide looked like it might never end.
As the first round rolled along, Smith had to be holding out hope that a team might trade into the late-first round to save his horrible draft-night experience. But if there was any hope, it proved to be false, as drafting a quarterback in the first round could cost a team millions more over the course of his contract than an early second-round pick.
Not only would a team have to give up picks to get Smith in the late-first round, they would be setting up cap space issues in a few years as well.
On the bright side, Smith should not get past the first few picks in the second round—it would be quite a coup for the Eagles to get him with the 35th overall pick unless Jacksonville takes him first—and he can learn from this experience at the draft, becoming the next face in the soul-crushing video montage of quarterbacks who sit in the green room and watch their draft stock slide.
Time and time again during draft night, people mentioned the tweet from Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, quoting former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue who said, "good things come to those who wait."
Aaron Rodgers @AaronRodgers12
Hang in there Geno, "good things come to those who wait" -Paul Tagliabue2013-4-26 02:50:44
Kind words from Rodgers. But did Brady Quinn offer any sage advice?
We all point to Rodgers being a guy too many teams passed on—NFL Network's Mike Mayock lauded Rodgers for still playing with that chip on his shoulder from his draft day—but the lining isn't always as "Lombardi-trophy silver" for quarterbacks who slide down the board.
Smith had decided not to take Rodgers' advice, by the way. At least he wasn't planning to take it literally, as Suzy Kolber of ESPN reported that Smith decided to fly home after the first-round debacle.
NFL on ESPN @ESPNNFL
Our Suzy Kolber talked to QB Geno Smith and he has decided to head home and will not be back at Radio City tomorrow.2013-4-26 04:28:04
But wait, an update! Smith has decided to stay in New York and attend Day 2 of the draft after all. The NFL moralists have won!
Moralists? Yes, there were people ripping Smith for his decision to leave New York after the embarrassment of Thursday night. The folks at ProFootballTalk—the self-appointed arbiters of NFL character and morality—vociferously lambasted Smith for wanting to go home:
If Smith doesn’t return, he’ll be confirming in the minds of many that he can’t show grit and resolve under pressure.
When Smith accepted the invitation to the draft, he knew there was a chance he wouldn’t get picked in round one. If he had any concerns about his ability or willingness to show up for the second day of the draft, he shouldn’t have agreed to make the trip to New York.
There’s still a decent chance Geno will be a top-five pick in round two. If he doesn’t return to the draft on Friday night, interested teams could opt for one of the other quarterbacks instead.
The entire post really is worth the read, just for the completely over-the-top nature of a hit piece on a kid after the worst draft experience anyone could possibly imagine.
It's not difficult to understand Smith's desire to get out of town. He could go in the first few picks of the second round, but those teams in need of a quarterback could look at Matt Barkley or Ryan Nassib instead.
Heck, teams could hedge their bets even more with so many potential starting-caliber quarterbacks still on the board and wait until the third round to draft a signal-caller.
If an NFL team had decided to pass on Smith simply because he didn't stay for the second round of the draft, as a fan, I would seriously question the football acumen of those in charge. In other words, statements like that show why some of us are writers, not football personnel.
Now, to the point that Smith knew what he was getting into when he accepted the invitation to the draft: That's not entirely true. The NFL is supposed to poll the teams to get a sense of which players will be picked in the first round—and early in the first round—in an effort to specifically avoid another Rodgers or Quinn situation.
In addition to the league looking out for its future star players, making every effort to avoid the kind of public embarrassment that Smith dealt with on Thursday, the kid's agent had to be in contact with teams to know there were at least two or three with interest before saying yes to the draft invitation.
Who sends their client to the NFL draft without a top-10 guarantee, or at least a mid-to-late first round safety net? Why would Smith's agent let him sit there for the entire night without a near guarantee that someone—anyone—would have taken him in the first round?
Sure, the draft is a nebulous process and maybe a team like the Bills intended to draft Smith before changing course to go with Manuel. Perhaps a team slated to draft Smith had a chance to pick a player they didn't expect to be available on their board when they drafted.
Heck, maybe someone just lied. Sorry, in the parlance of the NFL draft, someone lying is called a "smokescreen."
Maybe Smith, his agent and the league office all got "smokescreened."
At any rate, Smith will get drafted and can still develop into the cornerstone of an NFL franchise in need of a fresh start under center. If he is selected in the first few picks of the second round, he can go into camp with less pressure to be the immediate savior of a team, giving him a chance to learn and grow in a new system.
Frankly, the same goes for Barkley and Nassib, too. Despite losing a ton of money by not being drafted in the first round, a second-round selection could prove to be a good thing.
Unless, for Smith, thinking about leaving New York is actually a red flag for those teams in need of a quarterback and he drops to the third round—or later.
I guess, like the rest of us, Smith will just have to wait to find out.