BBD Editor Anthony D. Macari
With all due respect to Matt Barkley, Tyler Wilson, Mike Glennon and Tyler Bray, my top two QB prospects for the Bills heading into the weekend faced off against each other in the Pinstripe Bowl. The cold wet windy and snowy day in the Bronx served as the perfect backdrop to see how these two strong armed QBs could handle the elements in a big spot. Bills fans can only hope for a QB from this draft class to soon be playing meaningful games in late December in the wind and cold of Buffalo. Unfortunately, neither took advantage of the spotlight.
In a weak QB class, Geno Smith was emerging as the consensus number 1 despite a shaky second half of the season. Smith and the Mountaineers started the season on fire and had many comparing Geno to rookie phenom RGIII. Taking full advantage of explosive offensive weapons in Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, Smith led the Mountaineers to 5 straight wins to start the season and a #5 national ranking before the wheels fell off on both the team and his own season. A shaky defense was fully exposed by Baylor and Texas in back to back weeks, but Smith was able to go toe to toe with them to pull out victories. However, Texas Tech and Kansas State continued to pummel the Mountaineer defense for chunks of yards and points and in those outings Smith couldn’t keep up. He struggled with his accuracy and his ability to read coverages, blitz packages and work through his progressions. All of those issues were readily on display Saturday in the Bronx.
The Mountaineer offense seemed in disarray at times on Saturday. Smith was never able to settle into a rhythm to get the team on track despite the fact Syracuse was giving them opportunities with turnovers, penalties and a high risk defensive scheme. Smith has struggled throughout his career against Syracuse and that should be a concern to evaluators looking to see if his game will translate to the pro level. Syracuse has had their own issues on defense but they run a fairly sophisticated, pro-style defense. They disguise their coverage and blitz packages and play an aggressive attacking style. They have had mixed results running this system because it either completely confuses and disrupts opposing QBs or they get burned for big plays by a QB who is able to quickly decipher and exploit the blitz. In 3 starts vs the Orange, Smith has completed less than 60% (58.82) and under 7 yards per attempt (6.99) and has thrown as many interceptions as TD’s (5-5). Those numbers are far below his career averages.
The Pinstripe Bowl was the last in-game opportunity for Smith to leave a positive impression on scouts. The weather conditions were poor and clearly had an impact on the passing game and altered the game plan for both teams. However, with several of the teams in search of a QB, in particularly the Bills, coming from cold weather stadiums, this was an opportunity to prove both QBs could handle the wind, cold and snow. While neither QB shined, Smith seemed to really struggle gripping the ball. Part of the issue was a new center, but his passes lacked their usual zip and he lost the handle causing a critical 2nd half fumble. The bottom line for Smith, a QB hoping to secure a position at the very top of the draft, this was not the way you want to go out.
On the other side of the ball, statistically Ryan Nassib fared no better in the wind and cold. His passes were off the mark for most of the afternoon. There were several drops including a first half pass to Alec Lemon that would have likely gone for a TD that hit him in the hands, however even though the ball should have been caught, the ball placement was less than perfect slightly behind and shoulder high instead of leading him into the endzone. Nassib benefitted from a dominating performance from his offensive line who blew open holes for Prince-Tyson Gulley and Jerome Smith to the tune of 365 yards between them. With the dominating performance of the run game, there was little need for Nassib to risk throwing the ball much at all in the 2nd half. Yet, he also got away with a couple of questionable throws that were nearly picked and threw what could have been a momentum changing pick in the 2nd half if not for an immediate turnover the other way that followed.
There was however, one moment in this game where Nassib re-confirmed his toughness. Terrence Gavin blasted around the end unblocked and put a helmet into Nassib’s chest, driving him into the cold hard Yankee stadium turf. Nassib stayed down for a minute and Cuse fans surely thought they may have seen the last play by the Senior leader in an Orange jersey, but after sitting out for the mandatory one play, he came back onto the field to lead them down the field. The drive stalled at the one, but led to the first of 2 Orange safeties on the day.
There was a noticeable charge through the team when he came back out. Despite the mediocre numbers, Nassib’s quiet leadership kept the team focused. That was perhaps the most impressive accomplishment of Nassib this season.
The Orange were a team prone to the big mistake early this season with far too many costly penalties and turnovers. Heartbreaking early season losses resulted in a 1 and 3 start for the Orange. The team easily could have lost their focus but in no small part because of the leadership of their senior QB, they rallied down the stretch to win 6 of their last 7 games and 7 of their last 9 including dramatic 4th quarter comeback victories against South Florida and Missouri as well as an impressive victory against an at the time undefeated Louisville.
Nassib showed a true poise in the clutch and the resilience needed to bounce back from adversity that will serve him well at the next level. If he were coming out last year I think he would have slotted somewhere in the Kirk Cousins area in the mid-rounds, but in a depressingly weak QB class it would not surprise me if he actually snuck into the first round. That would be purely based on need, not value but I do believe eventually Nassib will find his way at the top of a depth chart in the NFL.
His flaws are correctable and he is extremely coachable. He has the arm strength, intangibles and athletic ability to succeed. He’ll need to develop more touch underneath and improve his ball placement with improved footwork but I do see many similarities with Christian Ponder and Kirk Cousins, who I was high on and still believe can be winning NFL QBs.
Neither QB helped their stock on Saturday, but I believe Smith, who had more to lose, hurt his more than Nassib, who may have had more to gain. Winning does hide many flaws so I believe Nassib’s below par performance will be easier to dismiss but he clearly missed an opportunity. For Bills fans hoping to find a field general who can brush off the wind and cold of a Buffalo winter, the search may have to continue.
QB is the one position were added weight should be given to Bowl game performances so Smith’s stock took a hit and Nassib’s late season momentum has stalled. I would not consider either QB, or any other for that matter, worthy of a top 10 pick. The Bills should remain patient and go best player available, who very likely would be a defensive player where the Bills still have multiple needs, in the first round.
The second round would be the right spot to look to take a chance on a QB because no QB from this class warrants the investment of a top pick. It may even be worth taking a shot to use that 2nd pick and another later round pick to pry away Kirk Cousins from the Redskins. If Cousins were coming out this year, we may be talking about him as a top QB pick in this class. The Bills could have their pick of Nassib, Bray, Glennon, Dysert and even Aaron Murray, should he come out, in the 2nd round. All have similar grades and at least one significant flaw to their game. Nassib and Smith may still develop into solid NFL starters but after their Pinstripe Bowl performances their values are in the 2nd round, not first.