West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith was busy preparing for the 2013 NFL draft, and for a number of visits to NFL facilities he has planned. So he didn't see the scouting report put out by Pro Football Weekly's Nolan Nawrocki until Jake Spavital, his former quarterbacks coach, called to tell him about it. Spavital, who now serves as Texas A&M's quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator, felt he had to let Smith know that one of the more prominent media outposts had described his abilities in ways that were far from complimentary -- and had also taken some fairly serious personal shots at the man most assume will be the first quarterback selected in this year's draft.
"Not a student of the game. Nonchalant field presence — does not command respect from teammates and cannot inspire. Mild practice demeanor — no urgency. Not committed or focused — marginal work ethic. Interviewed poorly at the Combine and did not show an understanding of concepts on the white board. Opted not to compete at the Senior Bowl and has approached offseason training as if he has already arrived and it shows in his body with minimal muscle definition or strength ... Needed to be coddled in college — cannot handle hard coaching.
"A cross between Akili Smith and Aaron Brooks, Smith is a gimmick, overhyped product of the system lacking the football savvy, work habits and focus to cement a starting job and could drain energy from a QB room. Will be overdrafted and struggle to produce against NFL defensive complexities."
"It's untrue in all things,'' Smith told Jim Corbett of USA TODAY Sports. "I heard about it [Monday] night when my quarterbacks coach called me to tell me about it.''
The report caused quite a furor, given Nawrocki's history of adding highly personal (some would say psychological) evaluations of some draft prospects without specific sources cited, or any specific training in such matters if the opinions are his alone. He wrote a similar report on Cam Newton before the 2011 draft, which led some to assume that there were racist tendencies in Nawrocki's reports. I don't believe that to be true -- I've read similar reports he's written about white quarterbacks -- but many are still left wondering where this comes from, and how valid it can possibly be. Because in Smith's case, there's a long line of people ready to testify about his work ethic.
"I was laughing with Geno about it Monday night and I said, 'Welcome to the business,''' Spavital told Corbett. "I've been around Geno for two years. I thought he was one of the hardest-working quarterbacks I've ever been around. You have people who are about 'What can football do for me?' Geno is about 'What I can do for football?' If you take the game away from him, I think he dies. He is a dream come true for a coach.''
Stedman Bailey, one of Smith's primary receivers during his time at West Virginia, is planning to attend the draft in New York with his friend this month, despite the fact that there's almost no chance Bailey will be taken in the first round. As Bailey told Corbett, he's doing it for his friend.
"I know first-hand that Geno is one of the hardest working guys having watched how far he's come over our years together," Bailey said. "He's a leader, a hard-working guy, a film junkie. He has all the qualities you'd want in a franchise quarterback. Anyone looking for that, Geno is your man.''
NFL Network analysts Charles Davis and Daniel Jeremiah also shot the report full of holes on the network's "Path to the Draft" program.
"In spending the time with Geno, and getting to watch him work and practice and getting to see him coached, I didn't see that at all," said Davis, who called two West Virginia games in 2012. "I saw a kid who was leading his team. I saw a young man who, when you talked with people and got it first-hand, he couldn't get enough football. We always talk about gym rats and film rats, and that's not the impression I got of him -- in fact, quite the opposite. I think he's a stand-up kid who works at it. This doesn't line up with what I've seen, of the reports I got from the combine."
Jeremiah, who has scouted for NFL teams, was similarly unimpressed with PFW's take.
"It doesn't really go with what I've seen. Me and Charles both had a chance to go down and see the Manning [Passing Academy] in Louisiana last summer. We sat in on a question-and-answer session, and all the top quarterbacks are there -- Matt Barkley, Mike Glennon, everybody. I had a chance to be in that room with Peyton and Eli, and watch these kids ask questions. I took some notes, and wrote at the end that Geno Smith asked the best questions of anyone in the room. He showed good football acumen. I talked to a lot of scouts who went through there [West Virginia], and they would talk about [Smith] finishing up a game, and going straight back to the facility to watch tape. He loves football.
"We can talk about him on the field -- some issues he needs to clean up -- but in terms of work ethic, I didn't have anything like that."
Charley Casserly, who has also worked with multiple NFL teams at very high levels, presented a more moderated take. He said there were some indicators that Smith did underachieve in the classroom, that West Virginia did run a fairly simple offense, that he might not be able to start in the NFL right away, and that some might still be concerned about Smith's physique. Nobody, however, has presented a similarly negative view of Smith's current work ethic or football acumen.
Nawrocki, to our knowledge, has taken a pass on all media requests. Asked to appear on ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike" program on Monday, he simply declined and said that he stood by his report. He issued the same refusal to the NFL Network, saying that the report on Smith was based on extensive research and evaluation, and that he stands by the report.
It would appear that he's standing very much alone in this case, though Mike Mayock of the NFL Network is one who will defend Nawrocki.
"When he puts that out there, there's no agenda," Mayock told "Mike and Mike" on Wednesday. "He's not trying to bash Cam Newton or Geno Smith. This is the feedback he's getting from scouts and what he believes based on his tape study. Does that mean it's right or wrong? No. We have to minimize that a little bit because scouts can say a lot of things to get their opinions out there for their own vested reasons."
We discussed the dangers of heading down this path earlier in the week, which brought up the question -- why does it matter what one draft analyst thinks about a player who NFL teams will get to meet in person and evaluate on a much more personal level? There are rules and points of order in draft analysis, just as there are in any field. And in a burgeoning industry like this one, standards are even more important as more and more people try to get a foot in the door. Every analyst who talks to scouts, coaches, and personnel executives will tell you that there are things heard in team facilities and elsewhere that are not written. Part of the responsibility given to any writer with a major platform is to vet out the controversial stuff that can't be confirmed by multiple sources -- especially when what you're writing goes so far against the tide.
Nawrocki has not revealed his sources, or even intimated who he's talking to and on what level those people may be. He's under no obligation to do so, but without that disclosure, we're left to imagine the possibility that some or all of this comes not from NFL teams legitimately concerned with Geno Smith's potential at the next level, but from one guy cobbling stuff together just to get talked about. Readers, viewers, and listeners have to be able to trust analysts at such a level, and any severe deviation from style like this should come with a pretty robust explanation of the method.
If you want to go rogue, that's fine, but don't expect the blowback to be pretty at all.
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