How Geno Smith Became the Top-Rated QB in the 2013 NFL Draft
Have you ever wondered how one guy can seemingly have it all?
Most of us will never be top-tier Division I collegiate football players. Even fewer will be NFL college quarterbacks. Being the top quarterback in one's draft class is an even smaller fraternity.
In today's NFL, the quarterback is intricately connected to the success of the whole. As such, being the top dog at the quarterback position is one of the most prestigious honors in all of sports.
For Geno Smith, however, being the 2013 NFL draft's top quarterback didn't just get handed to him, and it certainly didn't come easily. From the moment of his birth, it seemed as if Smith was destined for greatness, but there would be plenty of speed bumps.
It's All in the Family
From an ESPN profile on Smith, written by Elizabeth Merrill:
"The umbilical cord was choking him," [Smith's mom] said. "My mom lit up the labor room and started praying. She said, 'God, you didn't bring us this far to leave us.'
"That moment is forever etched in my mind. I got to the hospital just in time, and his life was already planned."
Smith was the product of teenage romance. While his mother (Tracey Sellers) and grandmother (Mosetta Bratton) provided most of the parental support throughout his upbringing, his father's side of the family provided plenty in terms of bloodlines.
Smith's great grandfather, Cyril Smith, was a bodybuilding legend in the Bahamas and spent his later years as a boxing referee. Geno's great uncle, Danny Smith, was an All-American track athlete at Florida State in the early '80s and a world-record holder in hurdles.
Let's not give his father's family all the credit, though. Former Miami Hurricane Mel Bratton is a cousin on his mother's side. Bratton was an NFL running back and personnel director.
As is par for the course in Smith's family, hardship turned into opportunity. His mother and paternal grandmother have started an organization to help mothers in similar situations (via ESPN):
It's called Parents Without Partners Life Center. Sometimes, when Sellers is talking to a single mother who is low on hope, who has become another statistic, she goes to her computer and shows the woman a Google search of her son.
NFL teams love bloodlines, and Smith has plenty of clout in that regard. It was clear even as a prep athlete that Smith was special in his own right. One does not climb the Google relevancy ladder on parentage alone.
Becoming a Master Artist at His Craft
Smith was a Parade All-American in 2009, joining names like Manti Te'o, Trent Richardson and Patrick Peterson. Before that, his grandmother wanted him to become an artist. She pushed him toward paints and sculptures (and made sure he was attending all of his classes) while Smith felt almost magnetically drawn to football.
His high school coach at Miramar High School in Miami was Damon Cogdell, a former West Virginia linebacker. Cogdell, a Miami native himself, has sent plenty of talent along the same Appalachian trail he once took. Smith, Stedman Bailey and Ivan McCartney are all Miramar grads.
Now Smith has a chance to become the most famous former Miramar student since Johnny Depp.
It wasn't all sunshine and lollipops for Smith in high school. He was suspended for his part in a massive brawl between Miramar and their rival Flanagan High.
The fight actually broke out, reportedly, because Smith's teammates were sick of Flanagan's cheap shots against their quarterback:
He commands intense loyalty from teammates. There was an infamous bench-clearing brawl at a Miramar High game back in 2007, and more than 50 players from Miramar and Flanagan were suspended in what was called Broward County's largest on-field fight. The fight started, Miramar coach Damon Cogdell said, after a late hit delivered on Smith, who was among those suspended. "He was pulling his own guys away," Cogdell said.
Smith pulled through that speed bump and headed to West Virginia as the No. 12 quarterback in his high school class.
Becoming a Mountaineers Legend
Smith almost didn't end up in Morgantown. The coaching staff had their sights set on Tajh Boyd—the No. 4 quarterback in the class. Boyd would eventually decommit from West Virginia and head to Clemson, where he would eventually face off against Smith in the 2012 Orange Bowl.
When he arrived on campus, head coach Bill Stewart almost immediately installed him as the No. 2 quarterback behind Jarrett Brown (via ESPN):
He was the No. 2 quarterback as a freshman and had to fill in for Brown when he got hurt. "He's not cocky," Brown said. "He was quiet, he did his job, and he came in and helped us win."
The next year, Smith would step up into the starting role.
His first start against Coastal Carolina was a thing of beauty. Against Marshall, his star began to shine even brighter. Down 15 in the fourth quarter, Smith took his team to overtime and provided the necessary heroics to beat the Thundering Herd. It was the first 300-yard passing game of his career, and it would certainly not be the last.
Who is the No. 1 QB in the 2013 draft?
Later that year, life drastically changed for Smith and the entire Mountaineers family when former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen was hired as offensive coordinator. He would replace Jeff Mullen (now at UNC-Charlotte)—the coach who recruited Smith heavily after being spurned by Tajh Boyd, and a coach with whom Smith had a strong relationship.
With Holgorsen, Jake Spavital (a young but noted QB guru) came over to teach Smith everything he knew. This involved throwing accurately under pressure and hitting long passes to a receiver, not just to a spot where a receiver can go get it.
Want to learn how to throw those bucket passes like Smith, try an actual bucket!
Where once a 300-yard passing game was considered a good metric, Smith started putting up 500- and 700-yard games in Holgorsen's offense, including the aforementioned trouncing of Tajh Boyd and Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
Before his senior season, Smith also traveled across the country, working with another noted QB guru, George Whitfield Jr., to improve his accuracy. With the full "Air Raid" offense being implemented, Smith knew that there would be room for huge numbers if he could hit his moving targets (via The Oklahoman):
“A lot of times when throwing the deep ball, you've got to put it to a spot,” Smith said when describing what he learned from Whitfield.
“It's not a high-percentage throw in the first place, so you have to make sure you put it in a spot where only your guy can get it, and at times I was trying to make the perfect throw instead of just giving my guys a chance to make a play."
Whatever Spavital and Whitfield taught Smith appeared to have worked. Smith's senior season was the stuff of legend. He quickly became a Heisman contender behind an incredibly high-powered offense.
During the early stretch of this past year, Smith completed an incredible 83 percent of his passes. Bleacher Report's own Lisa Horne detailed his efforts here:
But what is really surprising is both the low number of incomplete passes and interceptions from Smith. The more you pass, the more opportunity for picks and incomplete passes—Smith, however, has missed on only 28 passes this season. And some of those were dropped.
1,728 passing yards in 169 attempts. Not one of his passes has been intercepted.
Those are video-game numbers or numbers that would almost immediately pigeonhole most quarterbacks into "system QB" territory before the draft. It was up to Smith to prove that he could also project to the next level.
Solidifying His Draft Status
While the start of the 2012 season was all about Matt Barkley, it quickly became apparent that Smith was the top dog. However, the NFL had recently seen Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson come out of the draft as near-perfect rookie passers, so Smith had a lot to live up to.
Every player has a bad game. Those jumping off the Geno Smith train are fools.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) October 13, 2012
It didn't help that his senior season ended on such a low point. After putting up incredible numbers early, Smith found his way out of the Heisman talk. Some thought that moved him down draft boards as well.
After skipping the Senior Bowl, Smith would shine at the combine and began to separate himself from the pack. Tyler Wilson (Arkansas), Mike Glennon (North Carolina State) and others began to tumble down boards.
4.56 40, 10.4 broad jump, 34 inch vert. Yet none of this defines me as a QB! The game is won between the ears, study the tape!— Eugene Geno Smith (@GenoSmith_12) February 24, 2013
One quarterback seems to be giving Smith the most trouble.
Ryan Nassib has caught the eye of former NFL scout Russ Lande. Nassib was listed as Lande's top player (not top quarterback, top overall player). Recently, NFL Films guru Greg Cosell has also showed support for Nassib, saying he sees a little Drew Brees in him.
Still, many have Nassib going, at earliest, to the Buffalo Bills at No. 8. Smith should be a top-five pick.
Barkley also has one more chance to show he could be the top passer. His pro day (scheduled for March 27) will be the first time he's publicly thrown in a set format. If he has a great workout, some teams might prefer the West Coast kid—most notably, the Arizona Cardinals at No. 7.
B/R's Sigmund Bloom has the Bills and Cardinals as possible landing spots for Smith. He also has the Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 2), Oakland Raiders (No. 3) and the Philadelphia Eagles (No. 4).
While Smith may not be Luck or RGIII, he's more than talented enough for one of those teams to hand him the keys to their franchise.
It just wouldn't be Smith's style to be the surefire top pick. He's been successful in absolutely everything he's ever done on a football field, but the hurdles and the speed bumps seem to be ever-present.
When Smith hears his name called in April, it will be the culmination of a lifetime of hard work. However, it will also be the beginning of a new chapter—a chapter in Smith's life where he will undoubtedly try harder than his peers, overcoming great odds and look incredibly impressive while doing it.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.
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