The push to convince the NFL that he’s the top quarterback available in the draft — and the Chiefs that he’s worth the No. 1 overall pick — has started for West Virginia’s Geno Smith.
Without even a hint of cockiness, Smith suggested Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine that he will meet that challenge.
“I don’t feel any pressure,” Smith said. “I’m totally confident in my abilities. I’m not cocky or trying to say I’m this all-world player right now because I have many areas where I need to grow. But I do feel like I have a great, tremendous skill set and that I have an opportunity to showcase that and it’s something I look forward to.
“You can watch the tape and see all the throws I’m making. There still needs to be improvement. Inconsistency is something I’ve struggled with, I believe. Overall, I put up good statistics. But there are some situations where I could have made a better throw and I’ll be the first person to say that. I’m athletic, I’m a very smart guy. I understand defense, I have a good knowledge of the game and I also put the work in necessary.”
Smith’s combine work, including the throwing he will do for scouts on Sunday, might have to be dazzling to interest the Chiefs, at least with the top overall pick. General manager John Dorsey said recently the Chiefs and other teams were having a difficult time ranking the quarterbacks in the draft because so many, Smith included, were inconsistent last season.
That’s in line with what a lot of NFL scouts and draft analysts are thinking about this year’s group of quarterbacks, Smith in particular.
“He’s a good prospect with a strong arm,” said Bill Polian, the long-time Colts general manager. “He’s pretty accurate. He’s going to have a learning curve to get into a non-shotgun offense. He’s athletic enough. He’s not (Colin) Kaepernick but he’s athletic enough. What you don’t know is how good he is in terms of processing information and stuff like that. That’s what this predraft process is for.”
Polian said he wasn’t certain Smith is the best of this year’s draft-eligible quarterbacks.
“I wouldn’t say that,” he said. “I think there’s a group, all of whom are draft-worthy. I said last year (Robert Griffin III) and Andrew (Luck) were can’t miss. This year, I can’t say that (about a quarterback). Is there somebody who’s Russell Wilson? I haven’t seen him. Are these guys a lot like Miami’s (Ryan Tannehill)? I wouldn’t say a lot. But somebody’s going to play. They always do. Who is it going to be? I can’t say.”
Smith can make a statement that he should be the top quarterback in the draft with a strong showing at the combine and West Virginia’s pro day workout in March.
“I’m dedicated to the game, I have a zeal and a passion for the game,” Smith 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.”
Many scouts believe Smith has the skills to eventually become a franchise NFL quarterback. Smith completed 71 percent of his passes as a senior with 42 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Scouts are troubled by his inconsistent throws. He missed open receivers at times for no apparent reason.
West Virginia also had an uneven season, their first in the Big 12. The Mountaineers won their first five games and were ranked as high as fifth in the country before losing six of their last eight.
“We came into a new league,” Smith said. “We came out real hot, we were fired up and ready to really prove ourselves. Inconsistency set in. When we went through that tough stretch, I was the first one to stand up in front of the team and let them know we’re going to work even harder and we’re not going to put our heads down.
“More and more (opponents) just sold out to stop the pass. We had pretty much some good rushing lanes. We had some running backs, we had a back who wasn’t healthy. We had to put (wide receiver) Tavon (Austin) back there at times. That really hurt us. We kind of struggled to move the chains and we weren’t as consistent on third downs. So all of that and the combination was just what it was, not to make any excuses, coming into a new league, it was hard for us to rebound and get back on track.”
Smith missed his initial chance to prove himself to scouts by skipping the Senior Bowl all-star game in January.
“I love competition,” he said. “I didn’t shy away from it. I have people in my corner who give me some very sound advice, who I hold dearly to, who advised me to not go.
“There will be plenty of time for me to answer those questions or any questions about me. Being here now is one of those times. I think it was a good decision and overall it worked out.”
That decision doesn’t have to be fatal to Smith’s chances to be drafted in the first round, or even with the first pick, as long as he makes the most of things this weekend.
“I can’t expect to prove any of those people wrong without even playing a down in the NFL,” Smith 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.
“Once I set foot on a team and I’m drafted, I’m going to come in with the same mentality. It’s not going to change. I’m going to continue to grow as an athlete and a person.”