By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) Quarterback is always the glamour position in the NFL Draft.
Geno Smith of West Virginia is the top-ranked quarterback in this year’s class, but the 2013 Draft is nothing like the 2012 class.
Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson are not available.
Smith, Matt Barkley of USC and Mike Glennon of North Carolina State are available, but they don’t appear to have the same kind of talent or star power of last year’s group.
Smith, 6-3 and 220 pounds, is one of the biggest mysteries in recent draft history. If you ask NFL.com draft analyst Bucky Brooks, Smith is the likely No. 1 pick of the draft and will give the suffering Kansas City Chiefs a reason to compete in the 2013 season.
If you look at CBSSports.com’s top draft analyst Rob Rang’s mock draft, Smith slips all the way to the No. 8 spot.
While Luck was looked at as a sure thing when the Indianapolis Colts took him with the No. 1 pick last year and RGIII was only slightly less of a guarantee, Smith looks like a big, fat risk.
From here, the downside looks far more significant to the upside.
Smith started the season as if he was going to rewrite the record book. Through the first five weeks of the season, Smith was completing more than 80 percent of his passes and had a 24-to-0 TD-to-interception ratio.
If the season had ended at that point, Smith would have been No. 1 by acclimation.
From that point forward, Smith was not quite the same miracle man. He was the triggerman in West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen’s explosive passing attack and his statistics – 369-of-518, 4,205 yards, 42 touchdowns, six interceptions – were phenomenal. But after the Mountaineers struggled at the midseason point, Smith was not the same quarterback.
He was fine when he was able to build on fast starts, but when West Virginia fell behind in games, he struggled to make the proper decisions.
Smith is an outwardly confident player, but when the Mountaineers fell behind 24-0 in the second quarter against Kansas State, he was nearly despondent on the sidelines.
That facial expression never changed as Kansas State humiliated West Virginia 55-14.
For a player who projected total control and confidence earlier in the season, he seemed shaky and unsure.
The body language is not the main reason to question Smith.
Start off with the West Virginia offense. Unlike Luck’s Stanford offense or even RGIII’s Baylor attack, Smith did not have to read defenses as seriously as either one of those two quarterbacks.
Instead of observing the defensive front and then changing the call, Holgorsen’s gameplan is all about his quarterback getting rid of the ball quickly.
When you look at Smith’s passes this year, more than 60 percent of his throws were for nine yards or less. That’s the distance the ball traveled in the air from the line of scrimmage – not the total distance on the play. And only 10.6 percent of his passes traveled 20 yards or more in the air.
When you compare Smith to Barkley and Glennon, there’s a fairly significant difference. Barkley averaged 13 throws of 20 yards or more while Glennon threw 15.9 passes of that distance.
Scouts have questioned Smith’s readiness to play and excel at the NFL level.
He takes nearly every snap from the shotgun and his setup and delivery from the pocket are quite inconsistent.
On one throw he will have excellent form and two plays later you can see him throw off his back foot while delivering the ball from at a very blockable angle.
He was also throwing against the cloud-soft secondaries of the Big 12.
Smith is not a finished product.
Some project him as No. 1 because of his athletic ability, stature and arm strength, but he will have a lot of work to do in order to get his game up to the NFL level.
Don’t look for him to go before the Arizona Cardinals pick in the No. 7 spot and an Aaron Rodgers-like fall is not out of the question.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.