October 21, 2014

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NFL draft: QB’s skills make some drool, but others stay cool

The buzz in NFL circles won’t go away. If West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is still around, the Browns will draft him at No. 6.

Smith

“That’s a logical place for him,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “You’ve got a new GM, you’ve got a new head coach.”

The Browns, under the new direction of CEO Joe Banner, general manager Michael Lombardi and coach Rob Chudzinski, aren’t tipping their hand. But they have worked out Smith, as well as the other top quarterback prospects.

So if Smith gets past Jacksonville at No. 2, Oakland at No. 3 and Philadelphia at No. 4, the Browns will have a decision to make. Stick with Brandon Weeden or gamble on Smith?

“If you’re looking for an offense that uses a big arm and play-action heaves downfield, Brandon Weeden is your guy,” Texas A&M co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital told The Chronicle-Telegram on Sunday.

“If you want to be more multiple, Geno Smith’s your guy. Geno is capable of doing more things. Brandon, in the right system, he’ll flourish.”

Spavital qualifies as an expert. He coached Weeden at Oklahoma State and Smith at West Virginia.

Spavital created waves in February when he seemed to put down Weeden’s work ethic while praising Smith’s film study. That wasn’t his intention.

“It was mainly about Geno,” he said. “He was constantly up at the facility, constantly watching tape, constantly in the coaches’ office getting more tape for his iPad. It was a little different with Brandon.

“Geno’s a film junky. Brandon is married, he went home to his wife at night.”

Spavital said he didn’t have a problem with Weeden’s work ethic.

“No, never. I never had an issue with it,” he said. “There’s different ways guys can watch tape. Some can watch too much, some too little. Brandon was a good mix. He had a good feel.”

Spavital said he hasn’t talked to the Browns about Smith and can’t get a feel for where he’ll be drafted. But he thinks any team in the top 10 would be wise to take him.

“I think you can build a team around him,” Spavital said. “We put a lot of pressure on him because he could handle it. He’s gonna be your leader and you can go from there. This is what he was born to do, play this game.”

The opinion isn’t unanimous. In fact, Smith might be the most polarizing figure in the draft.

Pro Football Weekly’s Nolan Nawrocki said he’ll be overdrafted and will struggle against NFL defenses. “Does not command respect from teammates and cannot inspire. Not committed or focused — marginal work ethic,” the report said.

Spavital took exception.

“When you attack the character of him, how he’s a bad leader, brings the quarterback room down, that’s when I thought it was just absurd,” he said. “He’s unbelievable in the quarterback room. All the young quarterbacks love him.

“He studied real hard. I never had to worry about him. They were saying some false things there. To attack his character, it’s wrong.”

The combine preceded Nawrocki’s report, and Smith stressed his character.

“I’m dedicated to the game, I have a zeal and a passion for the game,” he said. “And I’m going to work extremely hard to hone in on my skills and be the best I can be from day one.”

Smith (6-foot-2½, 218 pounds) considered leaving West Virginia after 2011 but returned for his third year as the starter. Instead of being drafted somewhere behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III — and possibly Weeden — he’s at or near the top of this year’s quarterback class.

Smith got the NFL’s full attention with a scorching start to the season. The Mountaineers went 5-0 and he completed 81.4 percent of his passes with 24 touchdowns and no interceptions. He cooled off, but still finished with 42 touchdowns, six interceptions and 4,205 yards. He was 26-13 as a starter.

Smith is a good athlete (4.59 in the 40), but Spavital thinks it’d be a mistake to put him in the zone-read offense Chudzinski used with Cam Newton in Carolina.

“He can do it, but I don’t think he’d be very efficient,” Spavital said.

“I have the ability to,” Smith said. “I don’t think that’s my game. If a coach wants me to, I’ll definitely be all for it.”
Spavital and ESPN’s Jon Gruden feel his best asset is his mind.

“He has three or four options on every single play,” Gruden said. “I just think he’s exhausted at the end of every Saturday afternoon. They put a lot on the quarterback’s plate and I think it’s very underestimated what this kid can do from a football standpoint. He does a lot above the neck as well as making plays with his arm and with his mobility.

“I think he’s as complete from a versatility standpoint as there is anyone in this draft. He can run 4.55. I’ve seen him drive the ball accurately down the field. I’ve seen him throw the ball with touch and accuracy, make quick decisions and I’ve seen him be dominant at times.”

“He’s the best I’ve ever seen at managing the game, knowing what’s going on,” Spavital said. “He’s very good at his awareness of what needed to get accomplished.”

Despite the praise, Smith is certainly flawed. He was inconsistent during the team’s uneven finish, he fumbled 32 times in his career and his deep ball improved but isn’t where it needs to be. Many experts believe he’s got bottom-of-the-first-round talent but will be forced higher by a team’s desperation to find a quarterback.

“He can do every possible thing you can think of,” quarterback guru Steve Clarkson said. “He’s a good enough athlete to extend plays and has enough arm strength to make all the throws. Most importantly, he makes all the right throws. He has good touch and leads his receivers to areas.”

Would Clarkson take Smith if he were the Browns?

“That’s a good question,” he said. “The biggest thing against Weeden is not his talent, but his age (29). I wonder what’s his upside.

“But why take a step back by taking another quarterback? I think the Browns will look more in the second or third round to take a quarterback.”

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.