Every organization's dream is to have a franchise quarterback. But not every team knows how to identify, evaluate and locate that player. Even fewer understand, once they attain said player, how to nurture, provide and show patience until that QB develops into his potential.
I evaluated Geno Smith at West Virginia. I saw a kid who is physically gifted, has a great combination of size, speed and arm strength. I saw a quarterback who was extremely efficient: 42 TD passes to only six interceptions. He played with confidence, aggressiveness, never afraid to challenge defenses down the field.
I felt coming into the draft he was the No. 1 QB available in the class. The New York Jets got a great bargain after waiting until the second round to select Smith.
I disagree with how the Jets have treated their rookie from the get-go. It seemed negativity was coming from within the organization daily, and from the local media that covers the team. In a perfect world the Jets organization, including coaching staff, would have embraced a quarterback with Smith's physical ability and traits. But not in today's NFL.
The rookie was cast into an environment that included a lame-duck quarterback in Mark Sanchez, who was still with the organization only because of contractual issues. Smith was put into the middle of a "this-is-my-guy, this-is-not-my-guy" situation.
He stepped into an organization already filled with turmoil, dysfunction and non-belief. He's had to overcome obstacles – convert non-believers before he even played a snap in the NFL.
People doubted if he had the ability, the awareness, the intangibles to succeed at this level. I've questioned why, when a kid accomplished as much as he did at West Virginia and was as successful as he was, would he have to endure this type of environment before ever throwing a pass in the NFL.
We live in such a right-now, result-oriented society that a lot of these young, potentially elite quarterbacks, never truly get the chance to develop.
Going into Week 1, no one gave Smith and the Jets a chance to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Yet Smith – even though he made mistakes – showed flashes of his potential that I saw at West Virginia. He showed mental toughness, he showed physical toughness, he showed an ability to handle an environment that wasn't conducive to him reaching his full potential. Because in an organization where he should have been loved, he was being questioned already as to if he was capable of being "the guy."
Most franchises miss out on developing elite quarterbacks because they don't exhibit patience. It's not about the first quarter. It's not about the first game. It's not about the first half of a season. It's about playing the long game. Do we have a quarterback who is talented, who has charisma, who has moxie and are we willing to suffer through his growing pains?
Even the great ones struggled at first. Peyton Manning threw three touchdown passes and 11 interceptions in his first four NFL starts (he finished with 28 INTs that season). What if the Indianapolis Colts thought, "He's turning the ball over too much, let's go in another direction"?
The great John Elway: seven TDs against 14 interceptions his rookie year. Troy Aikman: nine TDs, 18 interceptions on a 1-15 team.
For the elite guys – the ones with great arm – they have to learn what they can and cannot do at this level. Part of learning – part of gaining that experience – is failing. You never succeed at quarterback in this league if you're in an environment where you're afraid to fail, which brings me back to Geno, who has seven TDs, eight INTs and a QB rating of 80.3 in his first four starts.
He played an outstanding game against the Atlanta Falcons. Monday Night Football, bright lights, on the road, loud environment, his top receiver – Santonio Holmes – not available. Criticism all around him. In that environment, the kid came through and shined bright, demonstrating that if given time and if surrounded with better personnel, he is the franchise quarterback for the N.Y. Jets.
[Related: Week 6 NFL QB rankings]
But why was Monday night so important? What if Smith didn't play well? Would that mean he can't succeed in this league? What if he had turned the football over? What if he'd have made the mistakes that rookie quarterbacks deserve the opportunity to make? Would the Jets have made a decision to go in a different direction – to see if Matt Simms can play? Would the Jets have folded under the pressure of a chorus saying that their rookie quarterback was turning the football over too much?
The one thing you don't want to do with guys like Geno Smith is limit their aggressiveness. You don't want them playing football in an apprehensive manner – afraid to make mistakes, afraid to take chances, afraid to use all their talent that has them in this position in the first place.
Monday was enough of an example of what this young man is capable of doing, so stop judging him on a week-to-week basis. Let him play out the season. Let him go out and be aggressive. Let him make downfield throws. Let him fit balls into tight spots. Give him the freedom to audible at the line of scrimmage, even if it's the wrong call. Let him make all the mistakes that the great ones have had to make before they reached and attained the level that they're at today.
If the Jets handle this right, they have their franchise quarterback.