We love comparing NFL rookies to current players because it allows us to fast-forward a guy's career and see how the story unfolds. So finding Geno Smith's NFL doppelganger should be fun considering the original top-pick projections and draft-day freefall.
Basically, we're trying to cheat the suspense of life. But who cares? It'll be fun.
And since every quarterback is unique, there won't be a singular overall comparison for Smith, but rather an explanation of how each attribute is similar to a current NFL passer’s skill set.
Passing Ability of Cam Newton
Smith's talent for the passing game is similar to Cam Newton's. They're both capable of great throws but can't do it consistently.
Newton can fit the ball anywhere with velocity and incredible touch, unfurling quick, pin-pointed passes with "basket throws" (when you drop the ball into the “basket” over the outside shoulders). A "basket throw" is when the quarterback drops the ball into the "basket" over the outside shoulder or throws a perfect throw.
Need an example? Check out Eli Manning tossing the quintessential "basket throw."
But neither Newton’s or Smith’s footwork is up to par. Newton has a tendency not to get his feet around when throwing to a different direction and relies on his arm instead. That can work against college defenses, but NFL linebackers and defensive backs will eat Smith alive, as Newton has proven, if he doesn't correct his feet. Granted, there a teachable, drillable solution to this problem, but one has to wonder about the intangibles touched on below.
Don’t misunderstand me, though: There's more to love than be upset about. The arm alluded to earlier is all it is cracked up to be. While a pro day is too often dismissed due to the optimal conditions and controlled environment, the tape shows that Smith can hit all of the marks when given the chance to succeed.
His ability to make every toss is the reason some had him going so early in the NFL draft for so long. Unfortunately, being able to toss the rock is only part of the equation.
Decision-Making of Tony Romo
Full disclosure: I am not the first analyst to draw this conclusion. Mike Tanier of sportsonearthblog.com planted his flag first. What we both want to impart is that Geno Smith has many of the same traits as Tony Romo, chief among them being his decision-making.
That's not an insult. We all tend to poke fun at Romo (probably because he seems happy and we can’t stand that), but he is very good quarterback.
And very good happens to be Smith's ceiling.
Romo can play lights-out football that forces my ilk to once again debate whether he is elite. Smith went on tears in college that made us wonder if there was even a top-quarterback debate. Not many signal-callers throw eight touchdown passes against a major-conference opponent.
As noted earlier, Smith can make all the throws, but he and Romo (and Newton) will force throws and try to make things happen when he should tone it down and refocus. Having confidence in your arm is great, but can also lead to a Brett Favre mentality, meaning Smith will try to drag his team back into the game solely by slinging it instead of playing fundamental football.
Smith's great start was playing against teams that didn't look adequately prepared for Dana Holgorsen's "Air Raid" attack. When he started facing defenses that were ready to take away the first and second option, he would get frustrated and try to force things instead of playing fundamental football.
That lack of ability to make the right decision time and time again will lose some football games, but those times when his is in the groove will win more than he loses. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
And, oddly enough, the comparison even extends to fumbling, a bugaboo for both players. Getting sloppy with ball security is the type of poor choice that can drive coaches crazy. Romo has fumbled the ball 51 times in 93 career starts, according to sports-reference.com. Smith fumbled 32 times in his college career.
The comparison just makes too much sense to ignore.
Maturity of a Young Ben Roethlisberger/Michael Vick
Before anyone goes straight to the comment section, I’m not discussing Roethlisberger’s or Vick’s current state of affairs. I’m referring to when they were in Smith’s stage of life.
And Smith seems to ooze the same “I don’t care” and “that’s not on me” mindsets that Roethlisberger and Vick harbored.
Vick has admitted that he was too cocky to put in the time studying film and improving. Had he done so, who knows where his career would have gone.
There were plenty of scouting reports that touted Smith's desire, but why didn't he participate in the Senior Bowl? I know that top picks don't want to risk getting exposed or being injured, but if you want that top pick (which he obviously did), then grab the bull by the horns and wow the scouts. He didn't do so and fired his agent as he dropped in the draft.
When asked about the termination of his agent's services and the accusations that he forwent interacting with coaches to mess around on his phone, he acted defiant. Smith let it be known that he wasn’t concerned with others’ impressions of him.
That smacks of Roethlisberger around 2006. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ franchise quarterback had a motorcycle accident without wearing a helmet, saying it wasn’t illegal. He couldn’t grasp that he was risking his future and wagering the sizeable investment the team made in him with such jejune behavior.
That version of Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t the same one who eventually marched his team down the field for a Super Bowl title. The 2006 Roethlisberger was a just-don’t-hurt-us quarterback who didn’t win games, but rather just stayed out of the way.
Therefore, Smith’s non-answers and vague "attacks" are worrisome when speculating about Smith’s future. How is he going to handle the pressure of winning a game late for the Jets when he can’t handle a little media pressure? Road crowds are capable of bringing much more heat than the average blogger.
But here's the better question: How many quarterbacks renown for their ice-cold blood haven't been able to handle the media? Really think about it. My list of late-game stalwart signal-callers includes Tom Brady, the Manning brothers, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. Every one of them handles the media with aplomb, and only Rodgers ruffles feathers, albeit with a knowing smile.
So will Smith be able to grow from this and transform his career like Roethlisberger or Vick? Or will he become the next Ryan Leaf or JeMarcus Russell?
Talked to a college coach: Thought Geno Smith was the most talented draft QB. "If he had EJ Manuel's makeup, he'd have been first overall."— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 28, 2013
At this point, we don’t know. We haven’t been able to find that remote that fast-forwards or rewinds times. If we had, none of us would be waiting for the 2013 NFL season. It’d already be here.