In one of the most stunning developments of the 2013 NFL draft, quarterback Geno Smith fell all the way into second round. This comes after Smith was invited to New York by the NFL, thus resulting in the belief that he was a high first-round draft choice.
As demoralizing as this decline may be, Smith must use this draft free fall as fuel for stardom as the New York Jets' starting quarterback.
This year's quarterback class has been criticized for being historically weak, but Smith was still the cream of the crop. Even NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN Insider speculated that Smith would go fourth overall to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Smith went 39th to the Jets.
This resulted in reports circulating that Smith would not return to Radio City Music Hall for Day 2 of the draft, most likely out of frustration and humiliation. The following day, however, Smith showed up once again and waited to hear his name called.
It's that mental toughness that will either make or break Smith's career.
We've Seen This Before
During the 2005 NFL draft, there were two quarterbacks who stole every headline for their raw ability and NFL upside. Those two players were current Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith and Green Bay Packers signal-caller Aaron Rodgers.
Smith's wait was short, as he went first overall to the San Francisco 49ers.
Rodgers, on the other hand, waited impatiently as 23 teams passed over him. Players such as Troy Williamson, Erasmus James and Matt Jones all heard their names called before Rodgers, as he looked on in frustration from the draft's player waiting room.
With pick No. 24, the Packers selected Rodgers and thus threw him another curveball—he'd just become Brett Favre's backup.
In 2007, a similar story was told during the NFL draft as Notre Dame quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Brady Quinn entered with world-class potential. After JaMarcus Russell went first overall, it took 21 more picks for another quarterback to come off of the board.
Quinn went 22nd overall to the Cleveland Browns.
The difference in their careers is not solely a matter of raw ability, as both were supremely talented prospects. Instead, it was how the two signal-callers responded to adversity.
This is not to say Smith has the ability or upside of either player, but an acknowledgement of where his work ethic can and cannot bring him.
It Won't Get Any Easier
If Geno Smith thought that the scrutiny he underwent at and leading up to the 2013 NFL draft was bad, he has no idea what he's getting into. In fact, Smith just entered the worst situation possible if he was hoping to progress quietly.
The New York media will chew Smith up and spit him out at every negative turn.
In terms of raw ability, Smith has every skill necessary to thrive at the next level, regardless of his team affiliation. With that being said, Jets fans have witnessed poor quarterback play for too long with the inconsistencies of both Mark Sanchez and the organization that's supposed to bring in weapons.
Smith must be prepared for the burden of expectation and to play for an organization that has not always complemented its stars with the necessary supporting cast.
With this in mind, it becomes a matter of how hard Smith is willing to work to reach the level he's capable of eclipsing. If he is, he can be the savior of the Jets franchise and complement an elite defense with offensive firepower.
If he's not, Smith will understand just how much more difficult it can be on the field than in an NFL draft waiting room.