In a weak class of quarterbacks this year Geno Smith of West Virginia is widely considered to be the best. Of course, we all know that doesn’t make him a guarantee to be a successful NFL quarterback. So, just like with everyone else, we have to ask, when it comes to being a starter in the NFL, is Smith a pretender or a contender?
Smith was a three-year starter at West Virginia, and emerged as the Heisman favorite early in his senior season. He put up some astronomical numbers, especially during his junior and senior years, throwing for a combined 8,500 yards and 73 touchdowns, with just 13 interceptions over those two seasons. During his senior season, Smith completed 71% of his passes, showcasing incredibly accuracy, which to many made him the top choice among quarterbacks in this year’s class.
Part of Smith’s high completion rate is a result of an offense at West Virginia with a lot of bubble screens and glorified handoffs that counted statistically as forward passes, but he is an accurate passer, especially on deep balls. With wide receivers so fast that it would be easy to under throw them, Smith routinely hit his receivers in stride down the field, while also showing plenty of arm strength to make all the necessary throws. He loves the big play and isn’t afraid to throw downfield, but his low interception rate indicates that he’s smart enough to not force things. Smith is good in the pocket, with enough mobility to get away from pressure while also keeping his eyes down field; he keeps his poise and doesn’t make bad decisions when pressed. He’s not the biggest guy, but at 6’3’’ he has enough size to see the field clearly and make good reads, both before and after the snap.
There’s not a whole lot not to like about Smith; most of it is nitpicking and most of it can be corrected once he gets to the NFL. For instance, he is by no means a runner, almost to a fault, as he sometimes doesn’t want to leave the pocket, even when he should. His arm strength is sometimes too much, as he doesn’t always put enough touch on his shorter passes, which can be tough for receivers to handle. Also, Smith played almost exclusively out of the shotgun or pistol formations in college; so going under center in the NFL is going to take some getting used to.
So, is Smith a pretender or a contender? Well, he may not ever live up to being the first quarterback chosen in the draft, which is a distinct possibility, but he’s certainly a contender to be a good starting quarterback. He has the arm to make all the throws and he makes good decisions with the football. There could be some issues if he’s on a bad team, but with a good supporting cast, Smith will be able to set up his receivers to make big plays and put points on the scoreboard. The competition isn’t great, but Smith is definitely the best quarterback available in this year’s draft.