Geno Smith got his shot and he missed. Actually, let me correct myself: Geno Smith got his shot and he missed wildly.
Last year, when the New York Jets invested a second-round pick in the record-setting quarterback out of West Virginia, Smith gathered himself out of the vacant "green room" at Radio City Music Hall -- reserved for what the NFL considers marquee picks -- and began his tenuous professional career. Fast forward to the present day. Smith now has 20 games as a starter under his belt, and we have to resign ourselves to what appears to be the reason he slipped in the draft to begin with: He's a mediocre quarterback with little feel for the position, no command of a game and a knack for the crucial eleventh-hour mistake.
The Total Quarterback Rating, or QBR, is hardly the only metric that matters when evaluating a player, but it definitely offers a reliable bellwether. As a rookie in 2013, Smith totaled a paltry 35.9 QBR. Through four games this season, that number has fallen even further to 27.6. To put things in perspective, here is the list of 15 other quarterbacks with similar QBRs through their first 15 starts, according to ESPN: Sam Bradford, Kellen Clemens, Blaine Gabbert, Bruce Gradkowski, Tarvaris Jackson, Kevin Kolb, Matt Moore, Brady Quinn, JaMarcus Russell, Mark Sanchez, John Skelton, Tim Tebow, Brandon Weeden and Matthew Stafford. Needless to say, Smith is not the next Stafford. And while he may not be out of the league a la Tebow, Quinn and Russell, he also hasn't shown anything that would allow us to deem him a legitimate starter.
One commonly heard explanation for Smith's porous play as a rookie (55.8 completion percentage, 12 TDs and 21 interceptions) was the obvious lack of playmaking talent around him. That was, admittedly, a fair argument. The Jets lacked an elite running game, and perhaps more importantly, the team offered has-beens like Kellen Winslow, Josh Cribbs and Santonio Holmes, and bottom-tier wideouts like Stephen Hill, Jeremy Kerley and David Nelson.
In 2014, however, it's a different story. To the Jets' credit, they went out and got one of Peyton Manning's favorite weapons in Eric Decker, along with six-time 1,000-yard rusher Chris Johnson, no longer a premier back but still a speedster. With an upper-echelon defense at his disposal and a revamped offensive line, Smith should be making strides.
What may be most upsetting about Smith's lack of progress is that quarterback Mark Sanchez, merely a punch line these days in New York, had eerily similar numbers during his initial 16 starts and actually improved as he played more -- something that Smith has not yet done. Sanchez is now the backup QB in Philadelphia -- and speaking of backups, Buffalo's E.J. Manuel, a first-rounder in the 2013 draft, was recently benched as well. Manuel, with his 19.8 QBR, was the only starting quarterback in the league with a lower QBR than Smith.
Smith is just days shy of his 24th birthday, and it would be premature to label him a bust, just as it would be with Manuel. Young quarterbacks, after all, can be a fickle breed, and for every Russell Wilson or Andrew Luck, there are a seemingly endless number of Smiths. What we can do, though, is apply the evidence we have on a player who has made 20 starts -- hardly an insignificant number. And the evidence suggests that Smith is fast approaching bust territory.
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