The time is upon us. It is one month until the 2013 NFL draft. As is always the case, there is only one position that generates unbounded passion and emotion: quarterback. Perhaps that is even more indisputable this year given the lack of that one, or two special talents like Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III. With the field more wide open, as it were, the debate only intensifies as to who is the best NFL prospect among a larger group. For some, only one or two quarterbacks are part of that conversation; for others, that discussion must include six or seven.
Pro days only magnify the process, and amplify the fervor. Geno Smith completes 60 of 64 passes at his session, and you would have thought by the extensive coverage that he had just won the Super Bowl. Landry Jones completed 66 of 70 at his pro day (one day before Smith’s), and you wouldn’t even have known that it happened. It’s a fascinating dynamic. Somehow watching quarterbacks throw in T-shirts and shorts to receivers they know well in a controlled environment with carefully scripted passes is seen as a meaningful measurement of future NFL success. One value of a pro day, as far as I’m concerned, is to observe a quarterback throw live, to see how the ball naturally comes out of his hand. That’s significant, because in the NFL, contrary to what many might tell you, arm strength matters.
Yet, there’s more to it than that. Snapping off throws with comfortable drops into the pocket and no pass rush pressure is not the same as delivering strikes in a muddied pocket with bodies around you in the cauldron of a collapsing pocket. If you are primarily a pocket passer, you must be able to do that in the NFL, or you will not be able to play at a high level consistently. Make no mistake, whatever offense you run in the NFL, even if it features a high percentage of shotgun and multiple receivers, you still will face critical game circumstances in which you must stand and deliver. That’s the reality.
Therefore, it’s singularly important to evaluate college quarterbacks based on what they will have to accomplish on Sundays, not solely on what they achieved on Saturdays. I remember evaluating eight or nine games of Blaine Gabbert coming out of Missouri a few years ago. He had a strong arm, could make any throw. He ran a true shotgun spread, with a high percentage of 1 step drop passes that diminished the likelihood of any pressure. There was only a small sample of deeper drop throws in which the pass rush was a factor. I studied those very carefully. Those would be litmus test examples of what he’d have to do in the NFL. Gabbert was very poor in those situations; his footwork broke down, he fell away from his throws, he simply could not function effectively. That was an immediate red flag as I transitioned him to the NFL. Unfortunately, it’s only been exacerbated in Jacksonville, and it will likely prevent him from being a quality starter.
Let’s advance the discussion to Geno Smith, now being talked about as a top 10 selection in the draft. There was much to like in the 500+ plays I scrutinized, and also some issues that need to be cleaned up. There’s no question Smith has an NFL arm; it’s not a gun but it’s strong enough to make every throw. Remember, though, he predominantly ran a shotgun spread offense at West Virginia. Why is that important to mention? Because spread passing offenses, in the college game with the wider hash marks, provide a large number of easy throws that inflate completion percentage. That’s not Smith’s fault -- it just means that any dialogue about Smith that begins with statistics is not relevant to any meaningful evaluation.