Geno Smith’s 656 yard, eight score performance against Baylor last week was a Heisman statement. This week’s challenge against a much stronger Texas defense was a chance to make an ever bigger statement for his draft stock. He passed the test. Smith threw for four touchdowns, added 268 yards and now boasts a stat line including 25 total touchdowns, zero interceptions and 1996 yards. In five games. There are decent starting quarterbacks in college football who would call that a season.
It wasn’t a flawless display by any means – two fumbles led to Texas scores and while bad pass protection was the main culprit, Smith could’ve avoided turning the ball over. But overall it’s hard to find too many faults. He was economical at times, making intelligent decisions and knowing where to put the football. All four touchdown passes were razor sharp, throwing into tight windows and making the most of his playmakers. And perhaps the most astonishing thing is how few opportunities he gave Texas to intercept a pass – despite throwing 35 balls. You’d expect a high percentage of turnovers given the prolific passing game – it’s the nature of the game. It’s one of the reasons Pete Carroll plays ultra conservative in Seattle. Smith has such a grasp of this offense that he avoids bad throws – his only one for the night came on an ill-advised pass to Tavon Austin in double coverage. It was a rare error.
When Dana Holgorsen took control at WVU it was easy to see this was a marriage made in heaven. His offensive scheme was a perfect fit for Geno Smith, who had posted a solid 24-7 touchdown-interception ratio and 2763 yards as a first year starter in 2010. I remember highlighting his potential in the summer of 2011 purely due to the prolific scheme being able to make the most of this accurate, athletic passer. By the end of last season he was starting to show real progress, but it’s hard to believe just how much he’s improved under Holgorsen’s tutelage. He looks stronger this year, he’s avoiding some of the costly mistakes we saw in 2011. He looks like a top first round pick.
I also liked how sparky he was on the sideline. Sometimes it’s good to see a bit of emotion from a quarterback, they don’t have to be completely stiff. Smith was jawing at the Texas players and getting the crowd going afterwards. He was enjoying himself out there and that’s the way it should be.
I noticed a lot of hand wringing on Twitter after the game which is par for the course these days. Guys falling over each other to tell everyone they ‘always had Smith ranked as the #1 quarterback for 2012′ – each apparently calling that a little earlier than everyone else. We saw something similar with Robert Griffin III last year. There’s seemingly a race to be ‘the first’ to project a prospect as highly as possible on the off chance it actually works out. That’s not how this game works. So far Smith has looked very sharp and it’s correct to acknowledge that. But it’s also right to let the season play out. There’s some big games coming up – against Kansas State and Oklahoma to name two – and he’ll have further opportunities to prove just how good he is. We don’t have to anoint him now, just like we didn’t have to anoint RGIII until the end of last season. Smith is playing at a high level – but we need to see more to complete his assessment. So don’t fight too hard guys patting yourselves on the back.
Right now Smith and Matt Barkley are the clear top-two quarterbacks eligible for 2013. Tyler Wilson still has a chance to work his way back into contention despite a disastrous season for Arkansas so far – but GM’s will acknowledge the car-crash nature of the environment around Wilson when judging his stock. There’s still a chance the quarterback position will get interesting for April.
WVU receiver Tavon Austin appears destined to join Geno Smith in the first round. He was explosive against Texas. Austin had a 40 yard touchdown where he created separation down the middle, took the underneath throw and then just out ran several members of the Longhorns defense to round the corner and break free. It was all about pure speed and yards after the catch and it’s the kind of play scouts will be sending to GM’s and coaches in the off season. Austin also had a 67 yard kick return and ended with 10 catches for 102 yards. Teams needing a spark on offense really will consider this guy in the 20-32 range.
Sylvester Williams is a more rounded prospect than Star Lotulelei in my opinion. Against Virginia Tech he was a consistent force as a pass rusher, as North Carolina won 48-34. He recorded another sack which means 5.5 in just six games playing defensive tackle. Like Bruce Irvin last year he’s a little older as a JUCO transfer but that shouldn’t put a cap on the guy’s stock. He doesn’t have the same level of upside but then you have a better idea of what you’re going to get at the next level. He’s the perfect fit for a 4-3 team that values size and pass rushing in the interior. He should be a top-10 pick.
Damontre Moore is another pass rusher who should be climbing boards. He’s looked sensational for Texas A&M this year and I’ll post some tape on the blog soon. He had another sack in yesterday’s 30-27 win over Ole Miss, making it six so far for the season. He’s not Von Miller but he’s used in a similar way by A&M and he has similar size at 6-4 and around 250lbs. The guy can play and will interest 3-4 teams looking for an outside pass rusher. He’s working into the top-15 range and could keep rising.
Jarvis Jones at Georgia had another sack too, but in a 35-7 blowout defeat to South Carolina. Jones has 5.5 sacks this year but has struggled to have a major impact in the last two weeks. He’s still an elite talent, but it’s looking less likely he’ll be a candidate to go first overall next year. In the same game, Marcus Lattimore had 109 yards from 24 carries plus a single touchdown.
Florida State has been over rated all season. That was proven true with last nights 17-16 loss at NC State. EJ Manuel is not a legitimate NFL quarterback and proved that with a scoreless second half. FSU led 16-0 at half time. Manuel took too many sacks and threw a bad interception in the second half to spark the comeback, failing to notice the under-cutting defensive back. He has the physical tools to interest scouts but he’s just not got the smarts and polish to warrant any kind of pro-consideration. I wouldn’t spend a mid-rounder on him. There’s also some concern for Bjoern Werner who started the year on fire but has gone sackless in his last three games. Four of his 6.5 sacks came against Murray State, while the rest came against Savannah State and Wake Forest. He’s not looked dangerous against Clemson or NC State.
A pass rusher who deserves more attention is Travis Long at Washington State. He leads college football with 7.5 sacks after grabbing another against Oregon State. We’ve talked about him before on this blog and he probably won’t be a high pick – but he can get to the quarterback. Keep an eye on this guy.
Florida safety Matt Elam is making a strong case to be a first round pick. He was all over the field in the 14-6 win over LSU, making big plays that impacted the game. I put his tape vs Tennessee on the blog earlier so check it out. He’s rising.
DeAndre Hopkins is quickly turning into a very intriguing prospect with first round potential. He had seven catches for 173 yards in a win for Clemson over Georgia Tech, adding two touchdowns. In six games he has 777 yards and eight scores – the best stats for any receiver in college football. That’s no mean achievement given the number of pass-happy offenses in the NCAA and Clemson do have a strong running game with Andre Ellington. He’s ahead of guys like Steadman Bailey and Cobi Hamilton who both had 300-yard games this year. Hopkins could wind up being the top receiver from this class. It’s not unthinkable. He’s running good routes, he looks controlled and he’s making big plays.