With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to continue this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.
#10: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
We continue this year's series with West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, who got off to a totally ridiculous start for his 2012 season. Through the Mountaineers' first six games, Smith put up video game numbers on the "rookie" setting: 196 completions in 260 attempts (75 percent completion rate) for 2,274 yards, 25 touchdowns, and no interceptions. However, in the team's last seven games of the season, Smith's efficiency dropped, as did his numbers -- 173 completions in 258 attempts (67 percent rate) for 1,931 yards, 17 touchdowns, and six picks. Prorated over a full season, those "down" numbers would still be impressive, but given what happened earlier in the year, Smith came into the pre-draft process as a bit of a disappointment in the eyes of some.
"I think more and more they just sold out to stop the pass," Smith said at the scouting combine, when asked how defenses may have adjusted. "We had some good rushing lanes. We had some running backs, we had a back who wasn't healthy. We had to put Tavon [Austin] back there at times. That really hurt us. We kind of struggled to move the chains and we weren't as consistent on third downs.
"So all of that and the combination was just what it was -- not to make any excuses, [and] coming into a new league [from the Big East to the Big 12], it was hard for us to rebound and get back on track.
"When we went through that tough stretch, I was the first one to stand up in front of the team and let them know, we're going to work even harder and we're not going to put our heads down. That's the one thing I take from that experience is that being a leader you're not going to deal with fair situations at all times."
Is Smith being evaluated fairly? Some would say that the seven-game decline, during which West Virginia won just two games, indicates Smith's real upside. But watching the tape tends to tell a different story, at least to me -- I think Smith is a reasonably developed quarterback with undersold assets and overblown liabilities.
Pros: Takes snaps easily from under center, the Pistol, and the shotgun -- has a smooth backpedal and plants to throw well. Sells play action convincingly, and has a good play- and shoulder-fake motion. Worked in a speed spread offense but does have the ability to process more than one read at the line. Was asked to read and diagnose defenses to a high degree, choosing plays at the line off his observations. Experienced in offenses that operate with an unusual multiplicity of plays -- the Mountaineers ran over 100 plays per game on offense at times. Not a "running quarterback" in the traditional sense, but throws very well on the run, keeping his eyes downfield, and can make plays with his feet. Unless he's working a designed run play, always looks to throw first and run as a last resort, even and especially when flushed out of the pocket.
Can legitimately make every NFL throw, from a full complement of screens, slants, seam routes to all manner of vertical stuff to the sideline and over the middle downfield. Doesn't lose velocity when throwing across his body -- in fact, he tends to hum the ball too hard in some instances. Has a great deal of experience reading progressions in trips and bunch sets. Has a nascent ability to look off defenders that can be developed into a real asset. Throws with anticipation more than he's given credit for. Could really stand out in a heavy boot-action offense with complex backfield schematics.
Cons: Smith benefited from a few things he may not have at the NFL level -- defenses playing on their heels to deal with a high-flying passing attack, Tavon Austin's playmaking threat (or a rough equivalent), and a host of quick screens, back passes, and end-around action. Needs to clean up his mechanics at the point of the throw -- tends to push and duck at times, which leads to some erratic results. Tends to lose touch and accuracy on intermediate throws -- must develop a better gauge on distance and speed to avoid over-finessing. Believes a bit too much in his ability to make throws in tight windows -- though he'll zing throws impressively at times, he'll also lapse and produce head-scratching incompletions and interceptions. Needs to keep his emotions under control at times -- this was an issue when he was asked to come from behind late in the 2012 season. Ball security is an issue. Needs to read blitzes better. Could stand to clean up his throwing motion -- will lag before the throw at times and reverts away from his ideal setup.
Conclusion: Smith is not a fully developed quarterback yet, but he presents the most intriguing skill set of any signal-caller in this (admittedly mediocre) draft class at his position. Just as the first half of his 2012 season overinflated expectations to an impossible degree, I believe that he's being castigated too much for the Mountaineers' late-season collapse. Like Schaub, a big, mobile quarterback who has excelled with his mobility in a multiple run-based system, Smith has what it takes to make it in the NFL sooner than later.