Projecting Geno Smith's Fit in QB-Needy Offenses

James DudkoFeatured ColumnistApril 3, 2013

Projecting Geno Smith's Fit in QB-Needy Offenses

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    As many as eight quarterback-needy teams might covet Geno Smith in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft.

    Of those eight teams, Smith fits best with the holders of the draft's primary pick. He could also revitalize the offense for a struggling AFC East team that hasn't made the playoffs since 1999.

    Smith could also find a home in the AFC North. He might appeal to a team that used a first-round pick on a quarterback just one year ago.

    Here are some projections of how Smith would fit with each of the NFL's most quarterback-needy teams.

Growing Popularity of the Spread Offense Makes Smith an Enticing Prospect

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    The spread offense is growing in popularity in today's pass-first NFL. More and more offensive coordinators are using multiple-receiver sets to spread defenses out and stretch the field.

    Spread schemes enable quarterbacks to operate from the shotgun more often, making things tougher for a pass rush. The spread offense also lets quarterbacks get rid of the ball more quickly, with more targets to aim for.

    Smith ran a version of the spread system at West Virginia. The prolific stats he posted in the scheme make him enticing in the modern, pass-heavy climate.

    In 2012, Smith tossed 42 touchdown passes. He averaged 8.1 yards a pass and threw for 4,205 yards.

    It's difficult to believe numbers like those are all due to scheme. It's also hard to imagine one quarterback-hungry team won't be tempted by those figures into taking a chance on Smith.

Be Wary of Labelling Smith a Runner

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    Prospective teams should be wary of counting on Smith being a prolific runner. In 2012, he managed only 151 yards from 66 attempts.

    That produced a pitiful average of 2.3 yards per rush. For his career at WVU, Smith never averaged above that mark.

    That's not to say Smith couldn't be a capable runner. He has shown flashes of being a quick-cutting and elusive runner.

    He shifts his 6'3", 208-pound frame quickly and possesses a long stride to attack defenses. He also demonstrates decent mobility in the pocket and throws well on the move.

    However, he doesn't boast credentials as a consistent rushing threat.

8. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Given that Smith is far from a prolific runner, he wouldn't fit well with the Philadelphia Eagles. New head coach Chip Kelly ran a fast-paced, option-based attack at Oregon.

    As he states in this video, a quarterback who poses a credible running threat is the key to the scheme. With that option defenses are forced into a passive style, as they struggle to decipher run or pass, pre-snap.

    That's why Kelly kept Michael Vick in the fold in Philadelphia. It's also why he acquired Dennis Dixon, a true read-option quarterback.

    Kelly's system is a run-oriented scheme. The propensity to attack on the ground will suit running backs as talented as LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown.

    However, it would waste some of Smith's natural passing talents.

7. Arizona Cardinals

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    Many may see Carson Palmer as a short-term answer for the Arizona Cardinals. However, if new head coach Bruce Arians does seek out a young understudy, Smith isn't the ideal fit.

    Arians favors a vertical-strike passing scheme. He will often attack defenses with multiple deep patterns.

    One of the common criticisms of Smith is that his accuracy is particularly wayward on deep throws. Yahoo! Sports' Greg Cosell said this about Smith's deep passing:

    There were too many routine throws that Smith left on the field with scattershot accuracy. In addition, and this was a real problem in my tape study, there were a number of throws that demanded velocity that hung in the air and lost energy on the back end. 

    That kind of issue would waste many of the concepts of Arians' system. Another problem would be Smith's issues dealing with pressure.

    Cossell described some of Smith's struggles identifying and reacting to pressure:

    There were numerous times I felt he perceived pressure that was not really there, and as a result, overreacted and broke down in the pocket. Again, it was not a large sample, but that’s the reason I watch every play with a remote and rewind as many times as I feel is necessary. In addition, there were times Smith drifted backward in the face of pressure. That tendency must be eliminated as quickly as possible. It’s the absolute worst response a quarterback can have when he senses the pass rush.

    With those issues, Smith won't be able to survive behind an offensive line that surrendered 56 sacks in 2012. The vertical routes in Arians' pass attack take time to develop, so his quarterback must be able to withstand a pass rush.

    Consider how often Ben Roethlisberger was forced to wait for deep patterns to develop when Arians ran the Pittsburgh Steelers' offense. Even in a successful season, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was sacked 41 times in Arians' offense.

    Placing Smith in this scheme in the NFC West could be a recipe for disaster. The division is loaded with talented defenses.

    The San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams can all be counted on to pressure quarterbacks.

6. Oakland Raiders

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    The Oakland Raiders would be a decent fit for Smith, even though they recently acquired Matt Flynn. Trading for the former Green Bay Packers backup could signal a shift away from the deep passing game.

    The Raiders were tied to a vertical offense for years under the ownership of the late Al Davis. A change to a more intermediate-based passing game would suit Smith.

    However, it's also a perfect for Flynn, who is well known to the Raiders' hierarchy. General manager Reggie McKenzie knows Flynn from their days in Green Bay.

    Raiders head coach Dennis Allen appears ready to turn the offense over to Flynn, according to SilverandBlackPride.com. That's a shame for Smith, because the Raiders have weapons he could use.

    Jacoby Ford is a diminutive speedster, with similar characteristics to Tavon Austin, Smith's favorite target at WVU. However, it sounds like the Raiders have already found their guy.

5. New York Jets

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    The New York Jets should have interest in Smith. Gang Green is implementing a version of the West Coast offense this season under new coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

    Smith is a precise underneath passer. He is also particularly adept at throwing to the horizontal routes that are the foundation of the West Coast scheme.

    Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com, referenced this stat about Smith's short-passing proficiency:

    Smith operated a short-passing game. In fact, he threw 177 of his 518 passes at or behind the line of scrimmage, including 112 screen passes.

    That may be considered a negative, but could be key in the right scheme. The Eagles were one of the league's best screen teams under Mornhinweg and ex-head coach Andy Reid.

    The one thing Smith lacks for the West Coast scheme is accomplished footwork. However, Yahoo! Sports' Doug Farrar recently quoted Mike Mayock noting Smith's improved mechanics:

    Most importantly, his footwork looked like it had been cleaned up. He slid, moved in the pocket, and delivered the ball firmly and with authority.

    Smith could be a risk worth taking for the Jets. They have a wide receiver in Santonio Holmes who will make the tough catches.

    Think about how easy this makes things for a young quarterback. Reggie Wayne did it for Luck and the Colts in 2012.

    The Jets also have a good pass-catching back in Mike Goodson. Smith's screen game would certainly suit Goodson and the speedy Joe McKnight out of the backfield.

4. Cleveland Browns

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    The Cleveland Browns clearly aren't entirely happy with their options at quarterback and Smith is an intriguing fit. Last year's first-round choice, Brandon Weeden, wasn't drafted by the Browns' new regime.

    Head coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Tuner won't take much convincing to explore new options. They've already signed Jason Campbell for depth and plan to meet with Syracuse star Ryan Nassib, according to The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

    The Akron Beacon Journal reports the Browns will also meet with Florida ace E.J. Manuel.

    Chudzinski is fond of a vertical-passing game and that could be a problem for Smith. However, Chudzinski could improve his basic mechanics.

    He tutored Cam Newton with the Carolina Panthers and knows how to develop a young quarterback. Turner's presence would also help.

    His offensive background is rooted in the "Air Coryell" offense. Turner learned to appreciate the deep-pass attack from coaches like Ernie Zampese.

    He tends to value quarterbacks who do their work from the pocket and that could suit Smith. Turner also coaxed a fine season from a former spread quarterback.

    Turner was offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers in 2006 and helped tutor a young Alex Smith. His system enabled Smith, who ran the spread in college at Utah, to throw for 16 touchdown passes.

    The younger Smith would be a risk for the Browns, as he doesn't possess the arm strength of Brandon Weeden. That could waste a vertical threat like wideout Josh Gordon.

    However, it's too soon to rule Smith out for the rebuilding AFC North club. They seem willing to fully explore all their options at quarterback.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    The Jacksonville Jaguars represent Smith's best chance to be a Week 1 starter. They have the most obvious need for a new quarterback, since 2011 first rounder Blaine Gabbert has failed to impress.

    The presence of new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch would help Smith. Fisch is a long-time quarterbacks coach who has produced good results, particularly at the collegiate level.

    He did some fine work at the University of Miami with youthful passer Stephen Morris. In 2012, Morris posted a 138.1 quarterback rating and threw for 21 scores.

    In the pros, Fisch has coached alongside quarterback gurus like Brian Billick and Mike Shanahan. He would certainly play a key role in Smith's development.

    The question is, do the Jaguars have sufficient weapons to help Smith flourish early? Running backs Maurice Jones-Drew and newly arrived Justin Forsett would ease some of the pressure on Smith.

    However, in the passing game, things aren't so clear. Veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis would give Smith a big target to aim for over the middle.

    The problem is Smith's receivers would have to grow with him. That's because the Jaguars don't possess a reliable veteran at the position.

    Instead they are stocked with youthful potential and inconsistency. 2012 fifth-overall pick Justin Blackmon displayed sporadic form during his rookie season.

    He certainly has talent, but may not have the temperament to be to the reliable, go-to guy Smith would need. Cecil Shorts would provide big plays from the slot.

    However, despite a fine 2012, Shorts has yet to prove his credentials as a true No.1.

    The Jaguars have the most immediate need for Smith. If they selected him they would likely waste no time inserting him into the starting lineup.

    However, the supporting cast leaves a lot to be desired and could put pressure on Smith to try to do too much himself as a rookie.

2. Buffalo Bills

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    Despite becoming the latest team to fall victim to the bizarre fascination with Kevin Kolb, the Buffalo Bills need Geno Smith. New head coach Doug Marrone would create the right structure for Smith to succeed alongside some useful weapons.

    Marrone worked wonders at Syracuse University. His team was built on the strength of an offense led by quarterback Ryan Nassib. Marrone developed Nassib into a prolific passer who threw 26 touchdowns in 2012.

    Marrone also played a part in turning Drew Brees into an elite NFL quarterback. He was offensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints from 2006-08.

    He favors a pro-based offensive scheme. That would let a pocket passer like Smith make a quick transition to life in the NFL.

    He would also be surrounded by weapons Marrone knows how to use. One of those weapons is dynamic, multipurpose running back C.J. Spiller.

    His speed is a perfect match for Smith's proficiency throwing screens and short passes. NFL.com's Bucky Brooks believes Marrone could make both Spiller and veteran Fred Jackson more prolific pass-catchers:

    Additionally, the exceptional receiving skills of Spiller and Jackson could lead to a ton of passes to the running backs on swings, flats and option routes from the backfield. Remember,Reggie Bush was utilized primarily as a receiver during Marrone's tenure with the Saints, catching 213 passes for 1,599 yards and eight touchdowns from 2006 to '08.

    A ground game featuring Spiller and Jackson would also provide the perfect safety net for Smith in Marrone's offense. Mark Gaughan of The Buffalo News reveals two key details about Marrone's coaching background:

    Balance. Marrone was an offensive line coach. He didn’t build his reputation by throwing the ball all over the field. Even before Syracuse’s snow-filled, run-oriented bowl game, the Orange ran 52 percent of the time in 2012.

    Both of those things would create a safe framework to help a rookie quarterback like Smith succeed.

1. Kansas City Chiefs

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    Learning from a coach as capable as Andy Reid would be the best start to life in the NFL for Smith. Reid has been a quarterback guru dating back to his days as Brett Favre's position coach in the 90s.

    Reid helped develop Favre with the Green Bay Packers from a raw and untested prospect into a skilled playmaker. He later did the same thing for Donovan McNabb, as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.

    Now with the Kansas City Chiefs, Reid has the right weapons to do the same for Smith. Similar to the Bills, the Chiefs have two big-play talents in the backfield.

    Jamaal Charles will be the primary focus of any defense that plays the Chiefs. Dexter McCluster is exactly the kind of pass-catching back Smith would quickly come to rely on.

    In Dwayne Bowe, he would have a big target, capable of working horizontal routes over the middle. Reid would also be able to develop a multiple tight end attack around Smith.

    Anthony Fasano and Tony Moeaki would be a pair of very useful targets. All this assumes the Chiefs will use the draft's top pick on Smith.

    That's far from certain, especially after they traded for Alex Smith. However, Reid does still seem to have some interest in this year's leading rookie quarterback.

    ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that the Chiefs met with Smith. NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reported that the Chiefs were enamoured with Smith's passing ability and he even reminded Reid of McNabb.

    Of course it's easy to assume any interest by the Chiefs is simply crafted to generate trade interest in the No.1 pick.

    However, if that is the case, the Chiefs are certainly going to great lengths to make it seem plausible. Those lengths include hiring Brad Childress as a "spread game analyst."

    That implies a willingness to implement a scheme similar to the one Smith thrived in at West Virginia. Even trading for Alex Smith could be part of smoothing the way for the rookie.

    Remember the older Smith also ran a spread-style attack at Utah. He could be stopgap, while the junior Smith refines his technique.

    Time will tell how realistic any of that is. Yet in terms of quality coaching, scheme fit and the right personnel, Smith and the Chiefs would be a great match.

Smith Won't Be Ignored in the First Round

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    Smith certainly divides opinion more than 2012's quarterback class did. While he's not Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, Smith won't be ignored in the first round.

    The sheer volume of quarterback-needy teams should be enough to guarantee that. Aside from the eight on this list, a case could have been made for both the Tennessee Titans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Jake Locker is yet to convince in the Music City. Bucs passer Josh Freeman has one year remaining on his current deal.

    However, as much as anything else, Smith has real potential to be a capable NFL quarterback. He has mobility to challenge defenses in the right system.

    That system has to be one based on simple reads and pocket-based passing. The right team will spread the defense for Smith and also move the pocket to give him time.

    The coaching he would receive in Cleveland, Buffalo and Kansas City, would give Smith a better chance to prove himself as a pro-ready quarterback.