Similar to the 2013 New York Jets, rookie quarterback Geno Smith had a roller coaster season. Rock bottom was hit when a horrid three game mid-season stretch was capped off with a halftime benching for Matt Simms. At the time, this appeared to be a death blow to a rookie campaign that had a good share of encouraging moments in the early portions of the season. However, Smith turned things around over the final four weeks and ended on a high note, making it more than likely he will be under center for the team in week one of the 2014 season.
We will dig deeper into Geno’s tape throughout the off-season and I encourage everybody to browse through some of the earlier work we did on him in the film room, however let’s take a broader look at his season and what to expect next year.
The positives: Smith has a cannon for an arm and is capable of making all the necessary throws in a NFL playbook. He is a big, athletic quarterback who is just learning how to utilize his legs properly as a scrambler. After his benching, Smith (who is a natural pocket passer and rarely ran with the football at West Virginia University) embraced his running skills more frequently and averaged 45 yards rushing per game with 3 touchdowns over the final four weeks of the season. Smith took a beating behind an inconsistent Jets offensive line but didn’t miss any time due to injury and frequently stayed in the pocket and delivered the football down the field with a defender either hitting him or directly in his face. Smith is not phased by the pass rush and doesn’t see “ghosts” in the pocket. He rarely bails on a play too early because of the pass rush. He also has a natural feel for the timing of the screen game. Smith has a calm on and off the field demeanor and seems to maintain a short memory. He didn’t hesitate to embrace a leadership role in his rookie season and was appropriately diligent with his work ethic off the field. As a rookie, he did an excellent job handling the media. Smith played very well in the two minute drill and engineered four game winning drives as a rookie.
The negatives: Smith came out of a simplified, one-read offense at West Virginia and it showed in his rookie season. He consistently struggled to read NFL defenses, which often led to turnovers or general poor decision making. This improved in the final quarter of the season but he still has a long way to go in this area. Smith showed a bad tendency to not protect the football in the pocket. He doesn’t have a great feel for the pass rush coming towards him or have his timing down yet on when to tuck it away and take a sack. Far too frequently, Smith would lock on to one receiver, instead of reading the defense which led to many of his interceptions. Despite having a strong arm, he is inconsistent with his accuracy at the NFL level and recognizing the difference between a receiver being “open” in college and the pros. Smith shows a hesitance to target a receiver after he fails to make a few plays (see Hill, Stephen) and can play “favorites” based on targets he has chemistry with, which can be a good thing at times but also leads to unnecessary forced passes. He needs to be smarter when taking off as a runner both in terms of protecting himself and the football. Overall, his primary need for improvement in his sophomore year must be cutting back on turnovers substantially.
Perspective: Smith was a flawed prospect coming out of college. There were good reasons he was a second round pick and the 39th overall player selected. It wasn’t going to be an easy transition for him into the NFL considering the type of offense he played in at WVU and the Jets didn’t simplify that transition by supporting him with mediocre talent, particularly at tight end and wide receiver. Smith had his top tight end rotate from Kellen Winslow Jr to Jeff Cumberland to Zach Sudfeld back to Cumberland and then eventually back to Winslow Jr. At wide receiver, he barely got half a season from his top target, Jeremy Kerley, and had Santonio Holmes miss most of the season and be at far less than 100% in many of the games he played in. Sophomore receiver Stephen Hill flopped, failing to provide the team with a legitimate deep threat. Ironically, it was mid-season acquisition David Nelson who became the team’s most consistent receiver throughout the year and de facto big play receiver by season’s end. While the Jets got strong seasons out of both Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell, they still lacked a true speed-back who could consistently punish teams in the screen game. The offensive line was average at best and Smith frequently dealt with inconsistent pass protection. During a middle stretch of the season, the playcalling got excessively conservative and rudimentary.
Let’s Not Get Too Excuse Heavy: Smith still had some bad stretches of football that were at a level which is unjustifiable regardless of who was playing around him. Improved weapons aren’t going to improve his field awareness in terms of protecting the football and ability to read a defense, both of which need to make major strides.
Season Overview: After a roller coaster eight game stretch to start the season, which included some terrific performances for a second round rookie (Atlanta, New England at home, Buffalo at home) and some nightmarish games (Tennessee, Cincinnati, New England on the road), Smith had a truly awful four week stretch of football. However, what is encouraging is that he bounced back to play a quality four game stretch games to end the season and three of those games were against top ten defenses.
2014 Outlook: Smith is the heavy favorite to start in week 1 of the 2014 season. The Jets are going to improve their talent offensively, both through the NFL Draft and free agency. This infusion of talent combined with Smith spending a full off-season with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and quarterback coach David Lee should naturally lead to improvement. Smith is likely to embrace his scrambling ability for an entire season the way he did in the final four games of 2013, which could very well lead to 500-600 total rushing yards on the season and 7-9 rushing touchdowns. As a passer, Smith should take strides with his ability to read a defense and should be substantially more comfortable in the Jets offense. It is not crazy to expect his completion percentage to climb a couple of points and for his turnovers to drop, while his passing touchdowns increase. Smith isn’t going to be a Pro-Bowl quarterback in 2014. However, he should be capable of leading a team to more than 8 victories and putting up a solidly improved and overall competent stat line.
Check out below where I gave my 5 bold predictions for the Super Bowl at The Whistle