By BBD Editor in Chief Matt Elder
I was having a discussion a few weeks ago with a friend and colleague of mine, Benjamin Albright of NFLDraftMonster.com (check them out, they have great stuff!), he mentioned that he thought that Geno Smith would make the perfect QB for the Chan Gailey system. Now this was before either the NCAA or NFL season began so while I liked Geno Smith plenty coming into the year I wasn’t quite sold and then…well…Geno happened.
Through three weeks of the NFL season the Buffalo Bills find themselves sitting at 2-1 but still with just as many questions as answers. The primary question that lingers is what in the world happened to the Ryan Fitzpatrick of last year and what should the Bills do about it? Now the Bills have already made it clear that they are not exactly thrilled with the QB situation. They brought in seven QB prospects last year for official visits, they attended a few dozen games that involved big time QB’s prospects both this year and last, and on top of all of that they made a trade late in the preseason for Tavaris Jackson.
So while they may publicly be stating that Fitz is their guy their actions tell a completely different story and one that many Bills fans are not only familiar with but openly support. The question though is who should we be looking at and why that specific QB in such a deep class? Two weeks ago we dispelled the myth that the Bills needed to tank in order to get the right QB, and now I think I have already found the one guy who is already putting himself above the others at least in terms of what the Bills want and need.
Here are Geno Smith’s numbers through four weeks of college football; 96 of 118 (81.3%) for 1,072 yards, 12 TD’s and 0 INT’s. He has thrown nearly as many TD’s (12) as he has incomplete passes (22) thus far and he’s already drawing comparisons to what RGIII did last year. To understand why Geno Smith is such a perfect fit for the Bills you have to dive deeper and get below just the numbers.
Geno Smith plays for Head Coach Dana Holgorsen who is known for his high tempo aerial attack known as the Air Raid offense. Holgorsen is a disciple of Mike Leach who is a master of the Air Raid offense. Holgorsen spent 9 years at Texas Tech before moving on to Oklahoma State and Houston before eventually going to West Virginia. At the time of the hiring it was thought that Holgorsen could end up being the best thing that ever happened to Geno Smith’s career.
Thus far the returns support seem to support that thought as Smith has seen his numbers go up in every statistical category despite having far more opportunities to make mistakes in the new system. In 2010, under former coach Bill Snyder, Smith threw the ball 372 times; under Holgorsen last year he threw the ball 526 times which was a total increase of 71%. The result was an improved completion percentage (64.7% to 65.7%), more yards (2,763 to 4,385), and seven more TD passes (24 to 31) all while seeing no increase in the amount of INT’s he threw (7).
So how did he do it? How does a QB increase his total attempts by over 150 and yet see only positive increases and no negative increase in his stats? Well part of that is the scheme of Holgorsen. The Air Raid offense is an evolution of the West Coast Offense to a certain degree, it requires a lot of short and accurate throws to your WR’s in space in order to let them work. It’s a system that calls on a lot of multiple WR sets and requires the QB to make quick and accurate throws through a spread out defense. Does that sound familiar to anybody else?
The Bills don’t run the Air Raid offense and there are plenty of ways to differentiate between the two, however what they do run is a system that shares some very interesting similarities. For instance the Bills ran the most four and five WR sets last year of any team in the NFL. They have their QB back in shotgun often and they ask him to make quick and accurate decisions with the football. These characteristics match what Geno is already doing in college and could level out what is a typically extremely steep learning curve for rookie QB’s.
That’s not to mention Chan Gailey’s affinity for athletic QB’s and Geno’s commitment to be less of an athlete and more QB as he prepares for the next level. When you watch Geno move in the pocket there are some important things to note. He doesn’t get rushed, he’s not going to make a wild throw or run around just because there is some pressure or nobody appears open. He’s ok with taking a big hit in order to deliver a big throw. He’s not going to commit to scrambling or even stepping up until he absolutely has to. He always keeps his eyes down field and he knows how to reset his feet and square his shoulders to his intended target.
Physically it’s impossible not to marvel at what Geno does with the football. Last week v. Maryland he continually delivered strong throws into every part of the field with velocity and accuracy. As NEPD Scout Mike Loyko pointed out, he made a pass fit into a three foot wide window with pinpoint accuracy. Loyko went on to say that Geno threw his WR’s open. That kind of accuracy makes a QB deadly in the Bills system.
Geno Smith now tops our QB rankings, sitting ahead of the highly heralded Matt Barkley. This isn’t a case of Barkley ceding his spot to Geno, but rather it’s a situation where Geno just took it from him. Geno Smith may just be the perfect fit for the Bills system, now the only question that remains is how high his stock will go.
As we move forward through this season and into the draft season make sure you take some time out to watch Geno Smith and this West Virginia offense. We’d recommend checking him out in two weeks as he leads his team down to Austin, Texas to take on the Longhorns.