For the second time in three years, Pro Football Weekly's Nolan Nawrocki has taken it upon himself to warn us of the dangers of that most suspect of characters -- the highly athletic top quarterback draft prospect. In his draft report detailing the pros and cons of West Virginia's Geno Smith -- the consensus top QB pick in this year's NFL draft -- Nawrocki takes off from the tape and gets personal.
"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."
Before the 2011 draft, Narwocki made waves with some similarly scathing critiques of Auburn quarterback Cam Newton -- who went on to set several rookie passing records with the Carolina Panthers.
“Very disingenuous — has a fake smile, comes off as very scripted and has a selfish, me-first makeup. Always knows where the cameras are and plays to them. Has an enormous ego with a sense of entitlement that continually invites trouble and makes him believe he is above the law — does not command respect from teammates and will always struggle to win a locker room . . . Lacks accountability, focus and trustworthiness — is not punctual, seeks shortcuts and sets a bad example. Immature and has had issues with authority. Not dependable.”
Now, what we don't know is where Nawrocki is getting this stuff. We assume he's talking to NFL teams, because if he isn't, he's making it up -- unless he's in the room with NFL teams during combine interviews, which we tend to doubt. That's the first problem with the "analysis" that doesn't come strictly from tape -- the lack of clear and credible sources. If you poll a room full of NFL scouts, coaches, and executives about any player, you'll get a pretty divergent set of opinions. It's then your job as the analyst in question to vet those opinions, decide what's accurate and relevant, and present your version.
The second problem in this case is the overwhelming evidence in Smith's favor.
Jake Spavital, Texas A&M's current quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator, spent the last two seasons coaching West Virginia's quarterbacks, including and especially Geno Smith. Spavital is one of the most respected offensive minds in the college game, and he couldn't say enough about Smith's willingness to prepare, and how that manifested itself in game situations. In an article written by Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Spavital discussed how Smith practically had to be pulled out of the film room, how he picked up several subtle nuances of the game by watching snap after snap of Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees doing their thing, and how he learned to create plays on the fly.
“He could do it all,” Spavital said. “He could be under center. He can throw out of the shotgun. He can throw comebacks. He can pull it and run when he needs to. We got to do some pretty good stuff with Geno because he was such a good student of the game and we could do anything with him. ... He impresses me a lot with the things that he can do — how he operates the game, how he studies. He would actually sit there and bring ideas to the table. There were times when we let him check [the calls at the line] 80% of the game. We put a lot on him and he’s capable of doing that."
Spavital also coached Brandon Weeden at Oklahoma State. Weeden was lauded in the 2012 pre-draft process for his maturity and understanding of the game. To Spavital, however, Smith is on a different plane.
“[Smith] studies it. With Brandon Weeden, I couldn’t say that about him. I love the guy to death but he had some good guys around him. Brandon knew how to get the ball to those guys. There were times at West Virginia when [Smith] had to create things.”
Asked to summarize his quarterback's work ethic last October, a few days after Smith threw for 656 yards, eight touchdowns, and no picks against Baylor, Mountaineers head coach Dana Holgorsen put it very succinctly.
"I'm sure he had three Texas games on his iPad," Holgorsen told the Houston Chronicle. "He's a student of the game."
Now, it just so happens that Smith is African-American, which is where the Akili Smith and Aaron Brooks comparisons most likely come from. Last time we checked, neither Smith nor Brooks threw for 42 touchdowns and just six picks in a single season, but maybe that's just us.
The problem here is not that Nawrocki takes off on Geno Smith's ability to succeed in the NFL. The problem is that he's casting serious aspersions on the characters of players in a very public forum -- PFW's draft guide is among the most highly-read in the industry -- without having to back things up and separate opinion from fact. And when there are enough direct contradictions to Nawrocki's assessment of Smith's character and work ethic at the time Nawrocki's writing his report, there should be an elevated sense of responsibility when clashing with so much glowing praise.
Unlike Nawrocki, Holgorsen and Spavital spent day after day in Smith's presence, and they'd know above all if Smith wasn't taking his game seriously. It is highly unlikely that one or both men would contradict their earlier praise, so the question remains -- where is this stuff coming from? And how are we to trust its veracity?
In a more general sense, draft opinions are like ... well, you know. Everybody's got one, and they generally make too much noise. But it's one thing to expound on a draft prospect's future based solely on game tape. That's about looking at specific football attributes and deciding, in the analyst's mind, whether the player can make it work. When you're questioning a player's character, personality, and work ethic ... well, you're exiting the realm of the subjective, and you'd better be right.
Nawrocki may be right about Geno Smith for all we know, but given the more knowledgeable voices in Smith's corner and the track record of the analyst in question, we'll take the over prescribed by Smith's coaches ... and continue to wonder why the dime-store psychoanalysis is necessary in this -- or any other -- case.