Breaking Down Geno Smith's Performance from 2013 NFL Scouting Combine
Geno Smith stood at the podium in a light blue sweater and confidently answered every question with honesty.
When asked about holes in his game, he gave somewhat of a stock answer. At the same time, it felt like he truly meant it (h/t Chiefs365, YouTube):
I have a number things I need to improve on. I don't think I have any glaring weaknesses. I work extremely hard to better myself as a whole. Every single aspect of my game is improving day by day. That's for someone else to decide but I think every part of my game needs to improve.
He went into Sunday's combine viewed as a talented but flawed quarterback. He finished it quite well, though.
Smith measured in at 6'2.375" and 218 pounds, which was good enough height and weight for a starting NFL quarterback. He showed improvement as a passer, which proves he's willing to learn. He's been receiving coaching from quarterback guru Chris Weinke during the pre-combine process.
Smith's also known as a "film junkie," as West Virginia quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital explained (via Tyler Dunne, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel):
We got to do some pretty good stuff with Geno because he was such a good student of the game and we could do anything with him. ... He impresses me a lot with the things that he can do — how he operates the game, how he studies. He would actually sit there and bring ideas to the table. There were times when we let him check 80% of the game. We put a lot on him and he’s capable of doing that.
Although Smith's tape prowess is impressive, he wasn't always last season.
In some instances during his senior season, Smith struggled to make the difficult throws into the wide side of the field because of his poor footwork. In addition, he appeared to struggle processing information, seemingly having issues making reads on the backside of a play, resulting in inconsistency.
On Sunday, Smith looked mostly improved. His footwork was better than in college, though there were still times when he reverted back to his in-season habits.
His lack of weight transfer was noticeable on a couple of throws because it affected his accuracy. On a throw to a speed out route, the West Virginia alum threw the ball behind the receiver. This is something that absolutely cannot happen because it leads to turnovers. As a rule of thumb, all outside-breaking throws are thrown outside the receiver.
When required to make a deep throw, Smith slightly overthrew his target. However, his footwork was noticeably improved. At the top of his drop, he looked good; his shoulders were squared, and his elbows formed a triangle that secured the football. That's exactly what coaches look for—a simple, yet important fundamental of quarterbacking.
After hitting his fifth step, Smith stepped into the turf with his left leg. It was his lead leg, and in order to get air under the ball, he had to move it forward before it hit the ground again. In college, this was an issue, as he often simply stepped straight down and failed to generate power from his lower half. But not on Sunday.
Smith stepped forward and cleanly brought power through his legs and to his arm after opening his hips up.
His hips were open when he released the ball from his right hand, and his delivery was proper. The ball and elbow were above his shoulder, which is the key to throwing successfully. This combination enabled him to drive the ball through the air with velocity. Ultimately, the ball landed just in front of the receiver, who stretched his arms in an attempt to haul in the pass.
His footwork was one area of improvement that briefly silenced critics such as myself. He also (somewhat) quieted those who doubted his mobility after posting the fastest official 40-yard dash time among quarterbacks (4.59). The number was a surprise because it doesn't show up on tape.
Smith operates best while in the pocket. He doesn't always throw particularly well on the run and isn't as fast as the number suggests, though it should be noted that he was rarely asked to run straight ahead. Overall, the drill and time are not significant and won't determine what kind of passer he is at the next level.
What will determine his success will be his footwork and understanding of the game. Only the former was on display on Sunday, and although it looked better than in the past, Smith was not under any pressure from a relentless, bone-crushing pass-rusher while making moves in the pocket.
There have been plenty of quarterbacks that have looked better with coaching in this same or similar setting. For one, former University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow looked much improved prior to being selected No. 25 overall by the Denver Broncos in 2010. Conversely, when he set foot in a live game, his so-called improved delivery reverted to its old habits, looping 180 degrees prior to flying from his hand.
Smith will have to work diligently to ensure that he kicks his habit of sloppy footwork, because he doesn't have extraordinary arm strength. He doesn't throw with great velocity on intermediate to deep routes and, as noted, sometimes struggles to make the throws many view as the test of a strong arm. In the NFL, those passes get intercepted if thrown with improper technique.
What his footwork looks like under pressure at the next level will be important, as will his ability to process information.
Smith has to improve on reading the game, including identifying hot receivers, rushers and those who are late dropping into coverage on the backside. This is something that many quarterbacks struggle with, but not many that are vying for the top overall pick in the draft, which is why Smith is closely scrutinized.
Regardless, at the combine on Sunday, Smith showed improved footwork, a quick and proper delivery and impressive straight-line speed. That will get the media, coaches and scouts once again talking about him as a potential top overall pick in what has become a "quarterback league."
All combine results courtesy of NFL.com.
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