Despite a roster loaded with talent, the Kansas City Chiefs could muster just two measly wins in 2012. No team in the NFL demonstrated how important it is to have a decent quarterback more than the Chiefs. Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn could only be described as awful quarterbacks in 2012.
It’s no wonder teams cling to average quarterbacks. Once the production of the quarterback dips below a certain level, the entire team suffers. It’s better to have an average quarterback than a terrible one, even though neither is going to lead the team to postseason success.
Geno Smith is absolutely worthy of the No. 1 overall pick, and he’s the best option available to the Chiefs. Many quarterbacks can probably lift the Chiefs out of last place, but Smith is the only one available who could take them to the next level.
The Chiefs were unlucky; they were bad at the wrong time. There isn’t an Andrew Luck or Cam Newton at the top of the draft, but finding the best possible quarterback is still the goal. If Alex Smith isn’t going to be released or traded, and Nick Foles isn’t going to be traded, there aren’t a lot of options out there.
The NFL is a business and the product is the players, so economic principles can be easily applied. The concept of best player available is fundamentally flawed because it fails to account for the law of diminishing returns which states that eventually addition is subtraction. The rule applies even at quarterback.
The Green Bay Packers had to trade Brett Favre because of the development of Aaron Rodgers. The Packers calculated that the expected output with Rodgers was equal to or greater than it would have been with Favre. They couldn’t coexist, so one of them had to go.
The best player available approach fails to account for expected output of the team with player A vs. player B. If teams were to really abide by the principle 100 percent of the time, they would end up with lopsided rosters. There are only so many linebackers you can put on the field at one time.
In theory, about 80 percent of the production is going to come from 20 percent of your players. It’s called the Pareto principle and if correct, roughly 2.2 players impact each play and roughly 11 players on any given team are going to have 80 percent of the production.
It’s a passing league and the quarterback touches the ball on every offensive play. It only makes sense that the quarterback is one of the 2.2 players producing on each play and one of the 11 best players on the team.
If positional value didn’t come into play, we’d see more punters and kickers drafted in the first round. Tight ends, offensive guards and fullbacks would also go earlier if all positions were the same. In application, the best quarterback available is going to be the best player available in most cases. This explains why quarterbacks tend to go off the board with No. 1 overall picks.
"You don't go for need, you go for who the best player is — or who you perceive the best player to be,” Andy Reid said at his scouting combine press conference (emphasis added). Perception is the key to the whole thing. A team is going to have a different perception of who the best player is based on what it needs. It might not draft for need per se, but its perceptions are already built into its draft board.
The Best Quarterback Available
Debating Smith’s merits as the best quarterback available is different from trying to argue if he’s worth the top pick. Saying Smith isn’t worth the No. 1 overall pick really just depends on your opinion of him and how he compares to the other options.
Most scouts agree that Smith is at least worth a second-round pick, with many agreeing that he’s worth a first-round pick. If he's a franchise quarterback, does it matter if he's drafted 15th instead of first? No, because you can't overdraft a franchise quarterback.
If Smith isn't a franchise quarterback, he has no business going in the first or second round. That doesn't mean Smith will be a great quarterback, because franchise quarterbacks aren't always the best in the league. The perfect example of a franchise quarterback who isn't one of the best five passers in the league is Joe Flacco. The consistently above-average Flacco won the Super Bowl thanks to great playoff performances.
Smith at his worst is still probably better than all the other available options, which is why the Chiefs shouldn’t hesitate to select him first overall.
One of Smith’s worst games of the 2012 season came against Kansas State. Smith had two interceptions and just 143 passing yards with the lone touchdown coming at the end of the game on a flip to Tavon Austin.
West Virginia got down early, but the huge deficit didn’t deter the Mountaineers from running the ball. Smith threw just 32 passes—seven below his average on the season. Smith still completed 65.6 percent of his passes against Kansas State, but on a season-low 4.5 yards per attempt.
Smith was in a hole from the start or the game and wasn’t able to dig his way out of it because of a fierce pass rush and receivers who weren’t getting open. Despite some struggles, Smith still demonstrated the skills that make him a top prospect.
On this play, Smith is able to go through his progressions and make a decision that results in a first down. Smith has a check-down receiver in the flat, along with a slant-curl and curl-go route combination on the outside.
The pass rush made it impossible for Smith to work the reads to his left, so he was left with deciding between the curl, slant and check-down receiver. Although visually there is a defender closer to the receiver running the slant than the one running the curl or flat, if Smith takes either of those options there’s a good chance that the defense is going to fly up and stop his receiver short of the first down marker.
Smith understands that he has space in the middle and threads the pass to his receiver for the first down with good velocity and accuracy. Smith routinely demonstrates the ability to manipulate the safety and make good decisions while delivering an accurate ball with good velocity.
It’s hard to fault Smith for a poor supporting cast, which included an offensive line that didn’t give him much time to throw. When Smith failed to convert a third down because Kansas State knocked the ball out of his hands, it was just 2.1 seconds from snap to fumble.
Smith also didn’t have a passing lane for his check-down receiver and all his other receivers were covered. If Smith was guilty of anything against Kansas State it was trying to do too much. This is something that’s very coachable and not some fatal flaw in his game.
It's actually a good thing that Smith keeps his eyes downfield and steps up into the pocket when he feels the rush. Unfortunately, Smith's offensive line did him no favors in 2012 with pressure that arrived so fast Smith didn't have time to throw.
Smith’s interceptions were under-thrown balls to his right, and in both cases he was pressured and didn’t have time to set his feet. Smith doesn’t have a rocket for an arm and depends mostly on his body to generate velocity. When Smith is pressured and tries to throw off balance is when he gets into trouble.
The way people have been talking about Smith’s poor performances, you would think he was making a lot of bad reads and throwing the ball with poor accuracy, but that’s not the case. Smith has very correctable warts and seems to have the work ethic and desire to correct them.
Even in Smith’s worst game of the season, he demonstrated the prerequisite skills to be good starter in the NFL. The Chiefs are in desperate need of a good starter, since they haven’t had one since Trent Green. There may be other quarterbacks who can lead the Chiefs out of last place, but most of them would be just a short-term answer to a problem that needs a long-term solution.
Smith is the answer to Kansas City’s franchise woes, but only if it is smart enough to make him the first overall pick.