In the 117 days since playing his final college game at West Virginia, Geno Smith has been pitched as a future NFL star and ripped as the next Akili Smith. He has been lauded for his drive and docked for his laziness; tagged as cerebral one minute and called confounded the next.
An assortment of opinions continue swirling around the Mountaineers’ career passing leader as the NFL convenes in New York for its elongated draft extravaganza. Smith could go be chosen as high as No. 3 tonight, or he could endure an evening of green-room awkwardness and fade into Friday’s second round.
“He’s above-average to good in every area, might not be exceptional in one,” said ESPN’s Todd McShay last week. “But I know this: he’s going to put in the time, he’s driven and he’s been durable throughout his entire career. That’s why he’s going to be the first draft pick at the quarterback position.”
That was last week. As of Monday, however, McShay’s updated mock draft had Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib going to Buffalo at No. 8, with Smith falling out of the first round.
Meanwhile, McShay’s ESPN partner Mel Kiper previously forecast Smith going to the Eagles at No. 4, with the caveat Philadelphia might gamble on nabbing him later in the first round via trade. By Wednesday night, Kiper updated his mock draft with the Browns choosing Smith at No. 6.
The NFL Network’s Scott Pioli, who served as VP of player personnel for New England during three Super Bowl titles, thinks Smith could land with the New York Jets as a year-away replacement for Mark Sanchez.
“They’ve got a new general manager (John Idzik) and he’s trying to put his stamp on the organization,” Pioli said. “They’ve got two first-round picks — 9 and 13 — but they’ve also got No. 39 overall. Waiting until 39 won’t allow them to get (Smith).”
The Jets have been part of the speculation ever since Smith’s dinner meeting with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg in Morgantown on March 13. That was the night before WVU’s pro day, at which point Smith built upon his combine showing.
“I think a lot of people in the organization feel Sanchez is not the guy,” said Pioli, noting that the Jets can void Sanchez’s contact at end of 2013. “And here’s a guy (Smith) who has dynamic ability.”
Even Pioli opined Smith doesn’t necessarily warrant a top-10 pick, but suggested he may be a need the Jets cannot overlook. “This league is about supply and demand” on quarterbacks, he said. “If you don’t have one, you better go out and find one, or find one you want to work with to try and create.”
THANKING HIS CRITICS
Smith lobbed a semi-brash tweet Tuesday, no doubt primarily in response to the Pro Football Weekly scouting report that questioned his commitment, mechanics, training and football I.Q.
“Just want to thank all those so called “experts” who say I can’t be an NFL QB,” Smith tweeted. “Thursday will be a special day but the work has only begun.”
Appearing Wednesday on the NFL Network, Smith explained his motive for taking to Twitter.
“Everyone hears all that talk on ESPN about us not having a quarterback class that can live up to last year’s. As a competitor I take that very personally,” he said. “I want to thank them for continuing to fuel that fire and allowing that chip to grow on my shoulder.”
WVU receiver Tavon Austin, who also figures to be a first-round selection tonight, guaranteed that any team drafting Smith is “going to get a leader.” That’s one of the intangibles that came into question last season as the Mountaineers suffered a five-game losing streak and finished with a 7-6 record. Though he fired 42 touchdowns and only six interceptions, Smith’s body language wasn’t always convincing, and he brushed off a career-ending Pinstripe Bowl loss to Syracuse by immediately discussing his draft preparations.
Yet as a teammate the past four years, Austin said scouts shouldn’t doubt Smith’s intensity.
“He’s a tough player to play for,” Austin said. “He’s going to say something to every person on the field, so don’t think just because I’m Tavon Austin or he’s Stedman Bailey that he’s not going to say something to you.
“That’s one person I know I’ll go to war with any day.”
SOMEONE WILL SHINE
Despite lukewarm projections surrounding Smith, Nassib, Florida State’s EJ Manuel and USC’s Matt Barkley, the right quarterback landing with the right team can produce a surprisingly magical marriage.
“There’s no one who really stands out, so no one really knows what to make of any of these guys,” said Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com. “But last year Russell Wilson was taken five picks after a punter in Round 3.
“Just because the scouts and the GMs and the draftniks are viewing these quarterbacks in a different light from the ones last year, that doesn’t mean these guys are destined to be bums.
“History tells us one of these guys — or maybe more than one of these guys — is going to end up doing a pretty good job in 2013, and we’re going to say, ‘Oh that guy should’ve been the No. 1 pick.’”