By Chris Perkins, Sun Sentinel
6:30 PM EDT, April 24, 2013
Thursday night's NFL Draft could be a historic one if homegrown product Geno Smith is drafted in the first round, becoming the first quarterback from Broward or Palm Beach County to achieve the feat.
However, that accomplishment could be dashed if a widely circulated scouting report questioning Smith's smarts resonates with NFL teams looking for a franchise quarterback. The Miramar High graduate has become one of the latest black quarterbacks whose football intellegence has been put under scrutiny.
A Pro Football Weekly scouting report by analyst Nolan Nawrocki said: "Smith is a gimmick, overhyped product of the system lacking the football savvy, work habits and focus to cement a starting job and could drain energy from a QB room."
Smith called the report "untrue in all things," while others, including former NFL quarterback Warren Moon, the first black quarterback inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, wondered if this was racial profiling because Nawrocki had a similarly damning scouting report on another black, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, coming out of college. Last year, there was a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel where Robert Griffin III, another black quarterback, was knocked by unnamed scouts who questioned the way Griffin deals with people.
Jon Gruden, the former NFL coach-turned-ESPN analyst, disagreed with the report. Gruden finds Smith, a Miramar High School alum, intelligent and cerebral.
"They [West Virginia] put a lot on the quarterback's plate, and I think it's very underestimated what this kid can do from a football standpoint," Gruden said. "He does a lot above the neck, as well as making plays with his arm and his mobility."
Smith's draft projections are all over the board. He could go anywhere from No. 8 (Buffalo) to perhaps not even being selected in Thursday night's first round.
For the non-believers, Smith delivered a message via Twitter on Tuesday afternoon: "Just want to thank all those so called 'experts' who say I can't be an NFL QB. Thursday will be a special day but the work has only begun."
Smith, an All-State quarterback who led Miramar to the Class 6A state semifinals in 2008, is expected to be Broward and Palm Beach County's first selection of this year's draft. But no one knows whether he'll become Broward's first quarterback selected in the first round.
Even teams that need a quarterback — Jacksonville at No. 2, Oakland at No. 3, Cleveland at No. 6, New York Jets at No. 13 — seem to have their doubts.
Smith, who led one of the NCAA's highest-scoring offenses, has his limitations, for sure. Decision-making under duress and ball security are the biggest knocks. Others say West Virginia's spread offense encourages gaudy passing numbers.
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said Smith needs to work on taking snaps from under center, as well as his footwork, posture and movement in the pocket.
"You can't ding the kid on that because that's what he's been taught," Mayock said. "His job is to win college games, not anything else. So you can't ding the kid for it. You have to be able to evaluate beyond that."
Most agree Smith is an excellent pocket passer, he's agile and he's smart.
"What I like about him, I like the fact that he can spin the ball," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr., said. "He's got the live arm, he can make any throw you want."
Smith has always professed his strong work ethic and studious habits. Even during the NFL Scouting Combine in February, before the Pro Football Weekly report was published, he touched on the topic.
"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."
Last season, Smith (6 feet 2, 218 pounds) passed for 4,205 yards, 42 touchdowns and only six interceptions while completing 71.2 percent of his passes. He didn't throw his first interception until Game 7, when he already had 27 touchdowns.
Smith became the Heisman Trophy front-runner in September when he passed for 656 yards and eight touchdowns in a 70-63 victory over Baylor.
But Smith went from national darling to being nationally doubted as his ninth-ranked Mountaineers and their woeful defense went on a five-game losing streak, falling to 5-5.
That's when the doubters started chirping. Smith said he doesn't worry about draft projections.
"I can't expect to prove any of those people wrong without even playing a down in the NFL," he said. "My only expectation is to become as polished as I possibly can when I enter into the NFL and compete and be a competitor. That's all I know how to do."
His high school has no doubts about his old pupil.
"When it comes to playing in the NFL, he'll be fine," said Miramar coach Damon Cogdell. "He will do a great job. He started eight straight years for two different teams and two different systems In regards to what all the so called experts are saying about doubting his ability, I think they just need something to talk about. I can't wait for Thursday."
The big question now is what the NFL thinks of his potential. Kiper thinks Smith is a quality prospect.
"He reads the whole field, which I like," Kiper said. "He's not just reading half the field, he reads the whole field.
"He's the kind of guy that if handled properly," Kiper said, "could be a very, very good starting NFL quarterback, I believe."
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