Smith headed for the top 10 overall?
March, 14, 2013
By Todd McShay | ESPN.com
West Virginia held its pro day Thursday, and despite all the positive buzz surrounding Mountaineers WR Tavon Austin (more on that later), it was QB Geno Smith who was the main attraction.
Smith came into the scripted, 62-pass session -- which also included some additional throws at the request of NFL teams -- put together by former NFL QB Chris Weinke looking to back up a solid showing at the NFL combine, and he did just that.
One of the first things that jumped out at me was the velocity and accuracy Smith showed on intermediate throws, which is something you see consistently on tape. He looked perfect on seam routes, throwing with low trajectory and good zip, and putting the ball right on the money.
As impressive as that was, what stood out most was Smith's improvement in terms of velocity and consistent accuracy on throws to the boundary (deep outs, 18-yard comebacks, vertical routes). He wasn't absolutely perfect in that area, but I saw a significant improvement over the eight game tapes I've studied from 2012.
One noticeable difference as I studied Smith's footwork and mechanics during the workout was his more erect posture in the pocket. His upper body was more upright, not as hunched-over as I've seen on tape, which allowed him to rotate his hips more effectively and get more zip on balls outside the numbers.
AP Photo/David SmithGeno Smith's pro day went as as expected. Now, more important tests await.
That hunched stance on tape forced Smith to waste motion and energy to straighen his torso and get the ball over the top, which prevented him from transferring his weight and rotating his hips properly. Those factors clearly affected his consistency and accuracy on deeper throws, but the change resulted in a big improvement.
This isn't a Tim Tebow-like overhaul of his entire delivery, but rather the kind of slight tweak and added polish that all quarterbacks who transition succesfully to the NFL undergo. And because he was able to make that change so quickly and so easily, you have to belive it's something he can sustain.
Teams see that kind of desire to improve and become a better overall quarterback, and it makes Smith a better NFL prospect.
Smith also showed the quick feet and compact delivery I expected to see, showcasing his smooth throwing motion. He gets the ball out in a hurry, is very accurate when throwing over the middle of the field and looked good on shorter throws, as well. He also displayed the ability to throw when moved off-platform and with different arm angles.
There is some work to be done in terms of being more mechanically sound and relaxed with his feet in the pocket, but Smith has the frame (6-foot-2⅜, 217 pounds), size potential, mobility, arm, short-to-intermediate accuracy and drive/work ethic to be a good NFL starter.
Smith has now aced the first two tests of the predraft process, and now his ultimate draft position will be determined by how he performs in private workouts and interview sessions with NFL teams that bring him into their facilities.
The first goal of those sessions is to get him out of his scripted comfort zone when working out, to see how Smith handles throws specific to a team's offense and being asked to react when things are mixed up.
The second is to watch film with him, to have an installation session that requires him to ingest and regurgitate a portion of the playbook, then get him on the whiteboard to see how well he retains and processes the information. Basically, to test his football IQ.
What he shows in those areas will go a long way toward determining his ultimate draft fate. I have a late-first-round grade on Smith, but based on conversations with people around the league it seems more and more likely that he won't make it out of the top 10 overall picks.
Arizona (No. 7) and Buffalo (No. 8) both have a primary need at quarterback. Bills GM Buddy Nix was in attendance Thursday, and Smith already has a workout scheduled with the team in the coming days.
And don't read too much into the fact the Cardinals were not represented Thursday in Morgantown. They might be feigning disinterest, they might be legitimately disinterested, or they might believe (as many teams and scouts, including yours truly, do) that pro days are so scripted and controlled that they're better off waiting for their own private workout.
Plenty of other teams in the top 10 have a secondary need at quarterback, including the Eagles (No. 4), who brought head coach Chip Kelly and much of their front office to town for a session with Smith earlier this week. Throw in Jacksonville (No. 2), Oakland (No. 3) and the Jets (No. 9), and there could be plenty of competition for Smith's services.
Now that he's showcased his physical skills twice and seemingly met the on-field standard for teams, it takes only one to fall in love with his intangibles and handling of the process for Smith to come off the board early in the first.
Austin garners big praise
Austin took part only in position drills during the workout, but he looked fantastic doing so. Austin (5-8.5, 174) showed off his combination of quickness and speed while running routes for Smith, flashing impressive burst and change-of-direction skills. On any other day, all the buzz would have been about him.
He's one of the few athletes I've ever evaluated with that blend of suddenness, lateral agility and top-end speed. Some prospects are exceedingly quick but lack long speed, while others are fast only in a straight line, but Austin has both.
What was most impressive, though, was the praise I heard about Austin from those in and around the West Virginia program. Head coach Dana Holgorsen talked to me at length about Austin's physical toughness, pointing out that the pint-sized receiver/running back/return man never missed a single practice in his four years on campus.
Austin comes from something of a tough neighborhood and has an edge to his game, but at the same time he's coachable, works hard and doesn't bring any baggage with him. Given all that, it's hard to imagine him getting out of the top 25 overall picks.
Interest could start as high as Miami at No. 12, then continue all the way to Minnesota at Nos. 23 and 25. Teams in between like St. Louis (16), Pittsburgh (17), Dallas (18) and Chicago (20) could also be interested in Austin.
As for fellow wideout Stedman Bailey, he had a couple of drops, but in fairness was asked to do a lot for Smith on the day.
It wasn't the best day Bailey (5-10¼, 193) could have had, but I don't question his hands for a second based on what I've seen on tape. I also clocked him at 4.51 and 4.55 in the 40, which is indicative of the playing speed I see on tape. Overall, he did nothing to hurt his mid-third-round grade.