Anonymous scouts have become the scourge of the NFL draft process in recent years, and never was that more evident than with the 2013 quarterback class.
After taking shots at two young Heisman-winners, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III, in the years prior, the “anonymous” cowards came out in full effect this year. Bob McGinn’s excellent article for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel perfectly illustrated how the 2013 quarterback class—which happened to be led by two more young, highly successful prospects: Florida State’s EJ Manuel and West Virginia’s Geno Smith—was perceived by personnel evaluators.
“I don’t think there’s a first-round quarterback in the bunch.”
“I think they’re all bad. It’s such a crappy group.”
“None of them are good enough to be starters.”
Those were just a few of the quotes McGinn obtained from scouts, who were obviously less than enthused about Manuel and Smith's potential. So far, though, it’s been Manuel, the No. 16 overall pick, and Smith, the No. 39 overall pick, who have been defying their critics, as they’ve proven that not only can they be starters in the NFL, but they can be starters right from the get go as rookies, and most importantly, they can lead their teams to success.
After nearly beating future hall-of-famer Tom Brady in his debut performance, Manuel beat both Cam Newton and Joe Flacco in two out of his next three games. The athletic 6’4’’, 237-pound former Seminole has displayed outstanding playmaking ability and leadership prowess in his first five games, even though his accuracy has been a bit spotty.
Though Manuel was the first-round pick, it was Smith who received much more scrutiny, not only during the draft process, but at the actual draft when he unexpectedly dropped out of the first round, and then every day afterward, following his selection by the Jets.
With the media magnifying glass glaring down on him, Smith has led Gang Green to three wins, including two come-from-behind victories in the final seconds. The latest feat came against the Falcons in a spotlight Monday night game in front of a national audience. Smith managed to put his terrible, turnover-filled performance against the Titans in the rear-view mirror, as he completed 16 of his 20 passes for 199 yards and three touchdowns, and led the double-digit underdog Jets to a huge upset victory on the road.
Thus far, the two young quarterbacks haven’t had to make anonymous statements about anything. They’ve been too busy making statement performances to the scouts who took closed-door shots at their reputations.
Admittedly, Smith and Manuel do currently rank 31st and 32nd in the league in total quarterback rating, which shows that there's still plenty of room for growth and maturation. But to put that into context, Colin Kaepernick and Tom Brady are the two quarterbacks standing right above them in that category.
Five combined wins in ten games for two rookie quarterbacks, who came from such a criticized class, is damn impressive, especially when you add in the late-game come-from-behind-scoring drives.
Smith certainly hasn’t looked like a “gimmick, overhyped system quarterback” like some initially labeled him. Instead, he’s looked like a strong-armed, mobile playmaking passer, who has added a new down-field passing threat to the rejuvenated Jets offense.
Manuel, a bigger, but still equally mobile playmaker, has turned heads as well, just as he did during his senior season, when he led Florida State to 12 wins, an ACC title and an Orange Bowl victory. Though neither player played in a powerhouse, marquee conference like the SEC, winning a BCS conference title and a BCS bowl is no small feat. It’s something Smith also did as a junior when he led the Mountaineers to a Big East title and a record-setting victory in the Orange Bowl. Still, the two rookies were the faces of a 2013 quarterback class that one of McGinn’s anonymous scouts described as a group filled with a bunch of quarterbacks who “never took their team to the next level, and never won anything.”
Well, both Smith and Manuel are winning now. They haven’t been deterred by their ill-omened outlook, as they've managed to shed their “crappy quarterback class” label.
Though both quarterbacks still have a lot to prove in their pro careers, so far they’ve proven their critics wrong, and they’ve proven that they do indeed have what it takes to develop into successful starters in the NFL.