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2014 NFL Draft: Wyoming QB Brett Smith Sees Beyond the Doubters

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2014 NFL Draft: Wyoming QB Brett Smith Sees Beyond the Doubters
USA Today

As a draft analyst, one of the last quarterbacks on my list to scout was Wyoming junior Brett Smith.

Admittedly, I was none too thrilled to be watching film of a Mountain West quarterback with a losing record (17-20) and an omission from the NFL Scouting Combine on his resume. Yet, after a few games of resisting the urge to be incredibly impressed, I could hold my enthusiasm back no longer.

This is the time of year when most days are spent in a dark room watching tape until hundreds of NFL hopefuls have been identified and graded—each trying to not only convince an NFL team they belong, but perhaps subconsciously convince themselves as well.  

The truth is, not a single young man out there training his butt off for a shot at the NFL really knows what the NFL is like.

It’s a place where hotshot All-Stars go to be humbled by an entirely new level of competition. It’s an unforgiving league that will weed out the weak faster than a pride of lions on the Serengeti.

Brett Smith's Career Passing Numbers at Wyoming
Year Comp. % Passing Yards TD Passes INT
2011 61.0 2,622 20 11
2012 62.1 2,837 27 6
2013 62.6 3,375 29 11

Sports-Reference.com

So I watched another game of this odd-looking kid, and another. What the tape showed over and over again was a terrific competitor making plays all over the field with his legs, arm and very little help from a supporting cast.

It was as if someone took Johnny Manziel, put him on a team of castoffs, stretched him vertically and harnessed his manic playing style into a more controlled, steady burn. In his three years at Wyoming, Smith rushed for 1,529 yards and 20 touchdowns while throwing 76 touchdowns and 28 interceptions.

Keep in mind any Manziel comparison coming his way speaks more to his unique mobility and affinity for ad-libbing than anything else. Aside from that, it kept getting better.

One of the more impressive things about Smith’s makeup was his incredibly consistent mid-range accuracy. Nearly every throw over the course of several games was placed exactly where it needed to be. He also flashed rare accuracy while on the move or under pressure.

These are critical skills for any NFL quarterback in today’s game and certainly contributed to Smith’s 61.9-percent completion rate at Wyoming.

Coupled with his accuracy was enough zip to place the ball perfectly into tight windows 10-to-20 yards downfield.

Eric Francis/Getty Images

One of the most important factors in determining a QB’s success at the next level is his ability to deliver under pressure.

Throwing an accurate pass while a 280-pound mound of muscle launches into your chest is a vastly underappreciated skill in the evaluation process—yet this trait is oftentimes significantly more valuable than a guy’s frame, arm strength or hand size.

The same can be said about the importance of a quarterback’s ability to put the team on his shoulders and carry it for four quarters despite being significantly overmatched.

Smith is certainly the type of respected leader who can keep his teammates believing they have a chance regardless of the score. Perhaps one of the better examples of this leadership quality is the 2013 season opener against Nebraska.

After watching every bit of tape available on Wyoming’s prolific dual-threat passer, it was time to get this guy on the phone. Thankfully, he was courteous enough to grant Bleacher Report a last-minute interview.

When asked about the Nebraska game, he described it as "one of the proudest games I’ve ever played in."

He went on to explain:

"I remember we were down, 31-14, in the third quarter. I got to the sideline and just started screaming to the guys to keep the fire going and not to give up. I was really proud of the way we fought back as a team and gave Nebraska everything we had. It was like everything just started to click for us."

If you watch that game close, you’ll see a guy who knows how to rise up from adversity to carry a team across the finish line. But as you watch his competitiveness, keep an eye on his accuracy as well.  

Wyoming went on to lose that game, 37-34, but showed it could stand toe-to-toe with elite-level talent—thanks in large part to its steady quarterback, Brett Smith.

Despite being showered with school records such as total offense (10,390 yards), touchdowns (97), touchdown passes (76), as well as the Mountain West and Wyoming record for total yards in a game (640) and finishing second in school history with 8,829 passing yards, Smith was shockingly one of only 13 underclassmen to declare for the draft and not get an invite to the combine.

In 2014, 355 prospects were invited to Indianapolis, while only 256 players will be drafted this May.

When asked why he thinks he wasn’t invited, he said, "I called them up, and they said it was because there was a record number of underclassmen who declared this year, and they wanted to make sure they had enough spots available for seniors."

Though this is certainly a contributing factor with a record 98 underclassmen declaring, it explains only a small portion of the reason. This year, the combine played host to 19 quarterbacks looking to impress all 32 teams on the big stage—none of them named Brett Smith. 

So what fatal flaws could he possibly have to warrant 19 QBs going ahead of him?

His footwork is certainly a negative element to his game that pops up rather quickly.

In a candid interview with the Casper Star-Tribune's Mike Vorel, Smith had this to say regarding his footwork:

Towards the end of the year we were doing a lot of east/west concepts where I’d throw bubbles or really short two-yard passes, so I was just getting it out and throwing it as fast as I can. I wasn’t worrying about my feet, so my footwork got really, really bad. I was just catching and throwing, because that’s what the coaches were telling me to do.

Nonetheless, college quarterbacks are notorious for displaying poor foot mechanics. Besides, buried within this flaw emerges a promising concept. If he can be this accurate and proficient with poor footwork, imagine what he can do when he puts it all together. That has to at least be an intriguing thought, no?

Maybe the big knock on him is his wiry, odd-looking frame that appears to have no business in an NFL uniform.

This concern is somewhat valid considering he is likely to measure in around 6’2” and 200 pounds. But in reviewing the tape, he constantly displays incredible, functional strength and is a tough mamma jamma to bring down with an arm tackle. Not to mention, Smith can deliver a mean stiff-arm when needed.

But if size or a skinny frame were really such a concern for scouts, why are prospects like Johnny Manziel (6'0", 207 pounds) and Teddy Bridgewater (6'2", 214) being considered for the No.1 overall pick in the draft?

Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Anyhow, last time I checked, they do fill out as they get older—especially if they dedicate themselves to a weight room.

Another common critique swirling around the Twitter draft community is questionable arm strength. This is something I, too, worried about and kept a close eye on.

It’s true that he doesn’t have the strongest arm in this class, but he does have an extremely quick release that comes with impressive zip. This allows him to throw passes into blanket coverage over great distances, which seems to override any tangible argument that he lacks an NFL arm.

Though unconfirmed by any official measurement, Smith looks to have relatively small hands. This may concern many evaluators who believe quarterbacks with small hands rarely have much success at the next level. If it turns out his hand measurement falls on the smaller side, this is something to take into account that could diminish his potential to a degree.

But could this actually be a worthy reason to keep him out of the combine? I doubt it, considering plenty of below-average hands were represented in Indianapolis at the QB position.

When pressed to give a prediction on his 40-yard-dash time, the man who prefers to let his actions do the talking eventually said, "I believe I would’ve had one of the faster times out there for quarterbacks. I tried watching it on TV but eventually became too frustrated and had to turn it off and go outside."

Despite being egregiously snubbed by the combine, Smith remains convinced he made the right decision to enter the draft when he did.

"Even if I don’t get drafted and end up signing as an undrafted free agent, I wouldn’t feel it was a mistake. I’m trying to make my dream of being an NFL quarterback a reality and didn’t want to wait any longer. I believe that I can be a top guy in this draft class and from a strategic perspective, it seems like a lot of teams are in need of a quarterback right now."

Brett is all too familiar with being overlooked and has learned to use it as fuel for an impressive work ethic that he identifies as his primary asset as a football player.

Eric Francis/Getty Images

"Ever since I was in high school I wasn’t recruited and wasn’t given much respect at Wyoming. People have always been telling me I’m not good enough to live my dream. That can be hard to hear over time. It has been hard. It forces me to ask myself why I’m doing this. Do I love it? I do."

This prompted an inquiry about his goals as a quarterback.

"This may sound cliche, but I’ve always had this crazy, vivid dream of being world champion—to be at the top, to be the best.  Every day I put on my headphones and visualize, every single day. It feels weird walking without music. I need to visualize. I have aspirations to be the best quarterback in the NFL. I don’t play this game to blend in and be just another quarterback. I don’t work to be sixth- or seventh-ranked quarterback in the draft. I want to be the most productive. I approach this whole process to be the best."

At the moment, it appears as though NFL scouts are positioning themselves to make the same mistake colleges made three years earlier when they doubted his ability to play Division I football.

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To say Brett Smith plays with a chip on his shoulder would be an understatement. Even a Doritos-sized chip would do him no justice with regard to the disrespect and doubt he has had to endure. Even he admits being the perpetual underdog can be “disappointing, frustrating and, at times, exhausting.”

One thing the evaluation process has always struggled to measure accurately is the size of a man’s heart, drive and willingness to overcome obstacles.

I personally believe Smith has a very real chance to eventually become the best quarterback of this draft class. His propensity to visualize the game long before it materializes is reminiscent of the newly anointed Super Bowl champion, and fellow underdog, Russell Wilson.

Wilson is a guy who spends a lot of time visualizing what he wants to happen on a football field. Smith added, "I spend a lot of time with my headphones on just visualizing playing in the NFL. When I say a lot of time, I mean I do this every single day."

My only explanation for him not making a trip to Indianapolis is that teams interested in drafting him are holding their cards close to the chest and don’t want other organizations to get a better look or see their interest in him.

This type of game-playing is not uncommon and may be just enough to cause him to slide into the middle-to-late rounds. Given everything he brings to the table as a highly intriguing prospect, there really isn’t a better explanation that comes to mind.

Whichever team wises up and takes him should be getting the steal of the draft. There was another wiry quarterback drafted in the third round, way back in 1979—some guy by the name of Joe Montana.  

 

Note: All quotes were obtained firsthand from Brett Smith unless stated otherwise. Statistics courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.

Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player and currently writes for Bleacher Report.

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