Last week, I took a look at Bills rookie QB EJ Manuel. This week, I'll evaluate another AFC East rookie quarterback: the New York Jets' Geno Smith. The 39th overall pick in the draft took the national stage last Thursday in Foxborough against the division rival New England Patriots. Smith's stats weren't pretty. He completed 15 of 35 pass attempts with three interceptions while taking four sacks in the process.
While Smith did not close the game well -- all three interceptions came in the fourth quarter -- his stats do not paint an exact portrait of his overall performance. Smith received little help from his receiving corps which was plagued with drops and miscues throughout the game.
Smith has shown flashes through his first two career starts and has helped the Jets to a 1-1 record. Below is a look at some of the positives and negatives from his performance against the Patriots.
One of Smith's biggest strengths coming out of West Virginia was his ability to survey the field and anticipate throws. This was evident during the first half when he found a nice rhythm. Smith was able to deliver a strike on a seam route to Stephen Hill in the first quarter. He showed nice touch and ball placement inside of Hill and away from a trailing defender to the outside. This appeared to be a big play for the Jets before Hill fumbled giving the Patriots momentum and allowing them to take a 10-0 lead off on a Stephen Gostkowski field goal.
Smith showed impressive poise to bounce back on the next drive. One of his more impressive throws of the night came on a third-and-7. Smith showed the toughness to hang in and deliver a perfect throw to WR Santonio Holmes on a deep sail route toward the right sideline while taking a big hit from DE Chandler Jones, who was flagged for roughing the passer. Later in the drive, Smith was able to use his feet to buy time and eventually delivered what appeared to be a touchdown pass to WR Clyde Gates, a play that was overturned and forced the Jets to settle for field goal. The throw was a bit low, but Gates should have made the catch. Unfortunately this was one of many drops the Jets receiving corps were guilty of throughout the night.
Through two weeks, I have been impressed with Smith's competitive edge. This was a quality many scouts liked about him coming out of West Virginia. Smith is an ultra-competitor who displays a lot of confidence. Although aided by a bad Lavonte David penalty, we saw Smith's confidence in the clutch late in the fourth quarter in the Jets Week 1 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He also kept the Jets close through three-and-a-half quarters on the road as heavy underdogs against one the best quarterbacks in the league, Tom Brady.
One of the more glaring concerns about Smith that I saw against the Patriots was his lack of ideal pocket presence. Smith was too quick to vacate the pocket at times, which led to him missing a few reads throughout the game. Smith is also quickly learning that he must speed up his internal clock. He held the ball for too long, which played a part in each of the four sacks by New England. Smith has now has taken a total of nine sacks through two games.
Smith has the mobility to pick up yards with his feet, which he showed with a 16-yard gain on a second-and-13 to extend the Jets' lone touchdown drive in the third quarter. As he goes through the season, Smith must learn to use his athleticism more often and be willing to tuck and run to avoid taking costly sacks.
In our scouting report on Smith, we had minor concerns about his lack of elite arm strength and the tendency to press when things aren't going his way, which is a common flaw in most young quarterbacks. These concerns revealed themselves late in Thursday's game when Smith threw three interceptions within the Jets' four fourth-quarter drives.
Smith has above-average arm strength and can stretch the middle of the field vertically. Where Smith had issues at West Virginia was driving the ball vertically outside the hashes. He displays a hunched-over posture in his upper body as a thrower which can limit the power he can generate from his lower body driving the ball downfield. This was clear on his final two interceptions, where both downfield throws fell off near the end of the throw.
On his second interception, Smith failed to put proper projection on a skinny-post throw to Gates, and the throw was undercut by Patriots CB Alphonso Dennard. On his final interception, Smith tried to squeeze a nine route into the field-side window against a cover-two look to Hill. The ball was underthrown and hung in the air for too long, which allowed CB Aqib Talib to fall back into the window and secure his second interception of the game.
Also, a steady rain fell during the second half, which appeared to have an effect on a handful of Smith's throws. There were some concerns about his ability to be consistent when dealing with inclement weather at West Virginia. These included dealing with high winds against Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and extremely poor field conditions in the 2012 Pinstripe Bowl in the snow against Syracuse. The rain didn't play a too much of a factor in Smith's second-half performance, but it is something to monitor moving forward.
Smith is off to an adequate start to his career. He has had his share of peaks and valleys through his first two games, which most rookies will go through. Moving forward, the Jets' ability to run the football and keep Smith in manageable situations will play a big role in his success or his struggles. But overall, Smith has shown flashes early on to provide optimism that he can be the face of the future for the franchise.