Geno Smith's recent rise legit, or a smokescreen?
Is Geno Smith a markedly better quarterback than he was three weeks ago at the NFL combine or four months ago at West Virginia?
That's what NFL front offices are trying to figure out right now ... and the mystery posed to the rest of us as the pre-draft process unfolds.
Smith impressed at his Pro Day last week, hitting on 60 of 64 attempted passes and reportedly showing off improved footwork. He did enough there to give his draft stock a boost, so much so that the NFL Network's Mike Mayock declared afterward that Smith is "absolutely" a top-10 talent.
Here's the thing about Pro Days, though: They're designed to make the players participating in them look good. Unlike facing the strange and intense pressure of the scouting combine, quarterbacks, for example, get to throw on a familiar practice field to their college receivers, with no defenders out there.
A 60-for-64 day, then, is not all that noteworthy on its own.
So why is Smith's stock rising?
Since that Pro Day, Smith has been linked to the Bills, Jaguars, Browns and Eagles -- all teams with picks in the top 10 this April. Those teams also all have varying degrees of need at QB, depending on your opinion of Tarvaris Jackson, Blaine Gabbert, Brandon Weeden and Michael Vick, respectively.
It was that desperation to find a franchise QB that drove Smith's projections soaring in the first place, back during the college football season. With so few apparent impact quarterbacks in this class, Smith's status as lead dog made him a coveted option.
He lost some luster, though, with a tough close to the season and a brutal bowl game outing against Syracuse. By the time the combine rolled around, Smith wasn't so much head and shoulders above the field as he was the de facto No. 1 quarterback prospect.
And what the teams that truly are interested in him now have to decipher is how authentic the current buzz surrounding Smith is.
Teams litter the pre-draft process with smokescreens designed to throw other franchises off the scent. Maybe Philadelphia really is considering Smith at No. 4 overall. Or maybe the Eagles are trying to make everyone else think that they're considering Smith at No. 4 overall, so the trade value for that spot escalates.
This type of action will happen with an untold number of prospects heading into late April -- it's already occurring to great degree with guys like Star Lotulelei and Jarvis Jones; teams outside the top 15 would love to use those players' questionable medicals to push down their value.
In other words, anything that we hear right now has to be taken with several grains of salt.
The one aspect of the evaluation process that can improve a player's standing has little to do with his on-field performance. It's the interview process -- when players sit down face-to-face with team reps -- that really can help or hurt.
Otherwise, scouts look for little bits and pieces (like, say, Smith's solidified footwork), but any scouting analysis circles back to what's on tape from a player's college career. Which means that it would be rare for a player to force teams to substantially adjust their draft boards at this point in the process. For Smith, the combine and his Pro Day did little more in reality than stabilize his spot atop this year's QB rankings and show the potential for improvement. Anything else beyond that takes on the feel of misdirection.