The former West Virginia standout generated headlines at the onset of training camp, telling reporters he expects to be a "top-5" quarterback "by this time next year or the year after," according to Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.
Smith's comments were a symbol of internal confidence and weren't intended to spur headline blotter, but the idea of Smith becoming a top-5 QB in the near future seems far-fetched, regardless.
The Jets are hoping Smith can take his game to the next level in 2014 and prove himself worthy of eventually earning franchise-QB status. If Smith falters this season, the Jets could be in the market for a quarterback in the draft yet again come 2015.
Although Smith faces competent competition from veteran newcomer Michael Vick in training camp, the Jets are going to give the former second-round pick as much opportunity as possible to prove himself. That sentiment has been evident throughout the first two weeks of training camp, as Smith has received a vast majority of first-team reps.
Smith remains nowhere close to claiming top-5 status at his position despite raging confidence from fellow teammates and coaches. While it's true that Smith flaunts serious upside, given his natural athletic ability and cannon of an arm, exhibition of subpar fundamentals and questionable decision-making ability have stalled his immediate development.
Smith was one of the least efficient quarterbacks in the NFL in 2013, completing just 55.8 percent of his pass attempts while recording just 12 touchdown passes against 21 interceptions. Smith's 66.5 passer rating ranked dead last among 37 qualifying quarterbacks. His collective performance rated lower than Terrelle Pryor (69.1), Brandon Weeden (70.3) and Matt Schaub (73.0).
Smith's performance throughout his rookie season was hindered to some extent because of the extreme lack of playmakers surrounding him. The Jets' receiving corps figures to be much improved in 2014, which should help Smith perform closer to the level most draft experts believed he would before the 2013 NFL draft.
On the surface, Smith's rookie numbers are plain ugly, but the 23-year-old team leader demonstrated flashes of brilliance, leading the Jets to a league-best five game-winning drives. Smith also broke a Jets' rookie QB record, registering 3,046 passing yards in his first season from under center at the pro level.
Smith often impressed with his sleek ability to know when to run, tying Cam Newton for the league lead with six rushing touchdowns.
His ability to escape the pocket wasn't optimally utilized, though. Smith was sacked a whopping 43 times, in part because of receivers' inability to find open space downfield but also because of Smith's delayed ability to read through his progressions.
If Smith is going to make good on his proclamation, he must improve his timing in underneath passing routes. It's also pivotal for him to throw the ball away in broken-play situations to minimize the chance for turnovers.
Smith appeared to do too much in lose-lose situations during his rookie season. It's more efficient to chuck passes out of bounds than to force a deep ball into strong coverage. If Smith can simplify his style of play and avoid committing ill-timed pass attempts, he will not only improve his passer rating but also increase the viability of the Jets offense, which averaged just 18.1 points per game last season.
Passer rating often dictates who the so-called experts dub the "best" quarterbacks in the NFL. The top-5 signal-callers from 2013 each completed at least 64.0 percent of his pass attempts (minimum 290) and posted an approximate 3-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The following table illustrates the QBs who flaunted the top-5 passer ratings from 2013 (all stats are courtesy of ESPN.com):
|Nick Foles (PHI)||64.0||2,891||27/2||119.2|
|Peyton Manning (DEN)||68.3||5,477||55/10||115.1|
|Philip Rivers (SD)||69.5||4,478||32/11||105.5|
|Aaron Rodgers (GB)||66.6||2,536||17/6||104.9|
|Drew Brees (NO)||68.6||5,162||39/12||104.7|
For Smith to transform himself into a top-5 QB within the next two seasons, he would need to cut his turnover total from 2013 (26) by more than half and also more than double his touchdown passes (12). Smith would also need to complete approximately 8.2 percent more of his pass attempts than he did last season (55.8).
The Jets ought to be pleased that Smith wears his confidence on his sleeve, but it's going to be immensely difficult for the second-year starter to live up to the goal he publicly disclosed to members of the New York media.
Smith doesn't need to be top-5 caliber for the Jets to become a playoff team in 2014; rather, he just needs to be adequate.