Thursday’s star-studded pro day at West Virginia drew quite the crowd. At least 29 of the 32 NFL teams were on hand to watch some of the nation’s best offensive weapons take the field.
The main attraction, however, was the guy many assume to be the best quarterback prospect in a relatively weak class: Geno Smith
As the crowd of scouts, head coaches, general managers and other executives watched with bated breath, Smith calmly rose to the occasion, looking very much the part of a star NFL quarterback.
He executed a fully scripted passing display to near perfection, completing 60-of-64 passes, with two of those being dropped by Stedman Bailey. One of the commonly shared sentiments of the day was that “this kid can make all the throws.”
IMG academy director and QB guru Chris Weinke, who scripted the workout for Smith, had this to say (via USA Today):
The big question teams had coming in was about Geno's feet. Geno's competitive as hell. I could tell during warm-ups, he really wanted to show what he could do. He's made good strides in showing his footwork off and the ability to make every throw he's ever going to be asked to make in the NFL.
Paying close attention to Smith’s footwork, I was left with little to be concerned about in that regard. This was especially the case with his dropbacks under center, which he didn’t do much of at WVU.
When you watch the video, you can see just what a top-level QB’s arm is supposed to look like. Every throw had tremendous zip and was delivered with great accuracy. Having the ability to throw with such precision consistently speaks directly to his improved footwork.
In the videos (posted in the article), both ESPN’s Ron Jaworski and NFL Network’s Mike Mayock comment on their concerns about deep-throw accuracy and the inconsistency they saw throughout Smith's career. These question marks were clearly issues several teams had heading into the big day, which could’ve eventually knocked him right out of the first round had he performed poorly.
Instead, his day was so impressive that it may have cemented his status as a top-10 pick, illustrated in the video by Jaws’ official “seal of approval.”
Teams also got an up-close look at Smith moving around in the pocket and making throws on the run. He did this exceptionally well all day, and it was a skill rarely seen throughout his game tape.
According to reports (via FanSided.com):
The Kansas City Chiefs, Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns and Arizona Cardinals all had high-ranking team officials at the Pro Day. … All four teams pick in the top ten (sic) and could benefit from adding a quarterback. The Chiefs, Jaguars and Raiders pick at No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3, respectively.
Jaguars coach Gus Bradley, who presumably values a dual-threat QB, showed interest in the top prospect by heading to the film room with the quarterback for 90 minutes after the workout was over. The value of getting a player up on a chalkboard is to help determine how knowledgeable he is about the game and how well he can process and retain information.
Some of the things we won’t get any clarity from in a pro day are how well Smith can read defenses or coverages. Can he deliver a perfect dart while taking a massive hit? Does he have what it takes to run the read-option in the NFL?
Though he has shown reasonable athletic ability with solid times at the NFL combine, we still have only a small sample size of Smith’s willingness to tuck the ball and run. In years past, this would be a tremendous asset to demonstrate pocket-passer abilities.
But in today’s NFL, the trend is quickly shifting toward QBs who can beat you with their arm and their legs. This league-wide philosophical evolution has many evaluators wondering what type of offense Smith is best suited for.
Ask him, and he’ll tell you he can play in any offense.
So just how much did Smith’s pro day help his stock? Weinke said in a post-workout interview, "If you walk away from this and don't think he's a top pick, I don't know what else Geno can do."
But looking at this realistically, it seems as though nearly every top QB prospect shines like a future Hall of Famer when throwing the ball against air in a pair of shorts. Does anyone remember the buzz surrounding JaMarcus Russell’s pro day?
I can tell you from personal experience, trying to process information quickly at a high level while the world’s biggest men attempt to break both your spirit and your bones changes everything. Success or failure is determined when the lights of the big stage come on and the world is watching.
On this stage, it’s often the guy with the biggest heart, not the biggest arm, who makes the winning play. It’s the guy who can remain calm under pressure who prevails when it matters most. Football is magical because of these very reasons.
A pro day will never show the true heart of a competitor. But at the very least, it seems to provide executives with enough confidence when making a young man the new face of a billion-dollar franchise.
Geno Smith passed that test.