With a first year under his belt full of ups and downs, Geno Smith ended his rookie season dead last in an ESPN poll of 26 insiders. In response to the ESPN Poll, Smith declared that he will be “in the top five” by the end of this year or next. As we all know however, what we want and what we get are two different things so the truth here lies somewhere in the middle.
Geno Smith had an interesting season in 2013 but it can be broken down three ways: The 1st and 2nd quarter of the season, where he found himself ranking 34 out of 37 QB’s with a 71.6 QB rating; The 3rd quarter of the season, where a QB rating of 22 places him, well i’m not even going to say it; And the final quarter, where he rose up and landed a QB rating of 83.6 that placed him as the 22nd best quarterback int he league.
Now granted, the QB rating system has its flaws, but in this case i just can’t see anything else that can accurately reflect Geno as a passer in his rookie season. Smith also accumulated 43 total sacks, tying him for 5th worst, and adding insult to injury his eight fumbles had him as the ninth worst. But, 28 of the 43 sacks as well as 6 of the 8 fumbles came in the first half of the season. Now those important numbers aren’t counted in the overall QB rating system, but they also don’t help Geno Smith’s case either.
What does help him out however is looking at what he had to work with in the 3rd quarter of the season. In twelve out of sixteen games last season Smith completed at least 15 passes, the only exception was the 4 game stretch in the 3rd quarter of the season. In those 4 games, Smith found himself absent wide receiver Jeremy Kerley. Kerley was Smith’s only reliable target in the passing game but left early in the second quarter vs the Saints with an elbow injury. Not having Kerley on the field forced Smith to look for other targets and the struggle was evident.
During that 4 game stretch, the leading receivers for the Jets were Jeff Cumberland, Kellen Wilson and David Nelson with 5 receptions, Bilal Powell with 6, and the top receiver was Greg Salas with 7. Certainly not the best group of receivers by the numbers. During that time the Jets seemed to limit Smith to 74 pass attempts where he only managed to complete a mere 29. When Kerley finally made it back to the field, in the final 4 games he brought in 15 total passes, which was more than the combined receptions of any combined Jet during his absence. In those last 4 weeks we saw a different Smith where he completed 58.6% of his passes with 4 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. He also limited opposing defenses to just 5 sacks with zero fumbles while he scored 3 more times on the run. Now if you were to include those rushing touchdowns into the QB rating, Smith would have walked away with a nice 92.2 mark, good enough for 9th in the league.
I know what you are thinking, i played with the stats to make Smith look good, and i did, but most Jets fans will argue that Smith was excellent during the last 4 games of the season and they would be correct just the same. During the final quarter of the season it was evident that Smith’s mechanics and pocket presence improved immensely while making huge strides protecting the ball. However, expecting Smith to be a top 10 quarterback this season would be insane, but there are a lot of reasons to believe that he could easily break the top 20.
Ahead of Smith are 11 other quarterbacks, and some are downright uninspiring. Carson Palmer, Ryan Tannehill, Sam Bradford, Josh McCown, Matt Schaub, Chad Henne, EJ Manuel, Matt Cassel, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jake Locker ranked between 21st and 31st in the ESPN Poll. Palmer and Tannehill both seem to have a chance at a good season given their surrounding receiving cast, both still have a tendency to be turnover prone. The rest of the list is really anyones guess but Schaub, Cassel, Hoyer, Fitzpatrick and Henne could very well find themselves jobless at some point during the season if not the beginning of next.
Above Carson Palmer are Alex Smith, Andy Dalton and RGIII in the 18 to 20 slots. RGIII comes in with health concerns, both Smith and Dalton seem to be solid but only Dalton found commitment from his team. I don’t see Smith jumping ahead of Cam Newton or Jay Cutler, 16 and 17 respectively, but the possibility of Smith jumping into the discussion with the rest of the group is pretty high, sans a healthy Robert Griffin III. So now lets assume that Smith manages to maintain the consistency he had in the last remaining 4 games of last season and maybe even improves further in 2014.
By the numbers a jump from 22nd to 20th is clear. With the newly acquired Eric Decker, Smith now has another target that should bolster his numbers. Now even though a lot of people don’t feel that Decker is a true number one receiver, i am not even going to argue that point, the fact remains that Decker is still miles ahead of anyone else on the Jets roster. Throughout training camp Smith already named Decker “Crafty” and his ability to get open at practice is already noticeable. Considering that the Jets receivers of last season couldn’t find a way to get open on the outside, Decker will bring quite a bit to the new offense. Kerley managed to get open on the slot but an outside open safety blanket is invaluable. So now Smith should have two reliable players to target instead of just the one he had last season.
Other reasons for optimism are Zach Sudfield and Kenbrell Thompkins. Sudfield has been making quite the waves early in camp and Thompkins received high praise from the Patriot organization last season in camp before being released. Granted we have yet to see them both in real action but if Sudfield truly has improved, he could be a nice paring with Amaro as a red zone threat at 6’7″.
All in all, Smith does have a realistic shot of moving up into one of the top 20 passers in the NFL with better weapons on the line and a continued personal improvement. Now if Smith does regress back to the turnover machine he was when the season started last year, Michael Vick can easily step in and make plays. But, if Smith can really make the leap from year one to year two, the Jets will certainly have a legit chance at the playoffs considering how talented the rest of the team is.