- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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The NFL is sending a message to Geno Smith, and it's not a positive one.
Four quarterback-needy teams picking in the top eight have acquired veteran signal-callers -- the Chiefs (Alex Smith), Raiders (Matt Flynn), Cards (Carson Palmer) and Bills (Kevin Kolb). If any of these teams deemed Smith a franchise quarterback, do you think they'd have doled out fairly significant contracts to a bunch of castoffs? Hardly.
The recent moves won't preclude any of these teams from picking Smith, but the days of picking a first-round quarterback and stashing him on the bench for a year or two are pretty much over. It sure looks like Smith could slip to the Jets, who own the ninth overall pick.
If that happens, should the Jets draft Smith?
It would be an upset if they do. With a crowded depth chart and an $8.25 million guarantee invested in Mark Sanchez, new GM John Idzik probably would pass on the prolific passer from West Virginia. They could try to trade the pick, but here's the problem: No team from 10 to 32 has a glaring need for a quarterback.
If the Jets pass, they'd get no argument from Pro Football Weekly draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki, who delivers a scathing assessment of Smith's skills. In his PFW scouting report, he writes:
"Not a student of the game. Nonchalant field presence -- does not command respect from teammates and cannot inspire. Mild practice demeanor -- no urgency. Not committed or focused -- marginal work ethic. Interviewed poorly at the Combine and did not show an understanding of concepts on the white board ... Has small hands and glaring ball security issues (32 career fumbles). Really struggled handling the snow in Pinstripe Bowl (took two safeties) and will be troubled by the elements. Needed to be coddled in college -- cannot handle hard coaching.
"Started the season red-hot with the help of two playmaking receivers and created a national stir generating a lot of over-excitement in the scouting community. Quickly came down to earth after Kansas State disguised coverages and brought pressure he could not handle and he finished dropping six of his final eight games. A cross between Akili Smith and Aaron Brooks, Smith is a gimmick, overhyped product of the system lacking the football savvy, work habits and focus to cement a starting job and could drain energy from a QB room. Will be overdrafted and struggle to produce against NFL defensive complexities."
ESPN Stats & Information has furnished some "Next Level" stats on the top eight prospects -- Smith, Matt Barkley (USC), EJ Manuel (Florida State), Ryan Nassib (Syracuse), Tyler Wilson (Arkansas), Mike Glennon (North Carolina State), Tyler Bray (Tennessee) and Landry Jones (Oklahoma). The numbers lend some credence to Nawrocki's evaluation of Smith. Consider some of these 2012 stats:
• On throws of 20-plus yards downfield, Smith completed only 37.3 percent, sixth among the eight passers. Manuel led the way with a 49.2-percent mark.
• Smith's career took off in Dana Holgorsen's system. More than 96 percent of his career attempts came out of the shotgun or pistol offense. Holgorsen introduced Smith to the pistol in 2011, and he threw 42 touchdowns and only four interceptions out of that formation. In 2012, 59 percent of his pass attempts came out of the pistol.
• Smith operated a short-passing game. In fact, he threw 177 of his 518 passes at or behind the line of scrimmage, including 112 screen passes. As a result, Smith’s average pass traveled 7.7 yards past the line of scrimmage, the fewest air yards per attempt of any top QB prospect.
• Smith thrived against extra pressure. Facing the blitz, he completed 70.8 percent of his passes, best among the eight prospects. Those attempts included 12 touchdown passes and only one interception.
The Smith debate will continue as we get closer to April 25. What do you think? Me, I'd pass.