With the possible exception of Manti Te'o, no prospect faced more scrutiny in the NFL draft than West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, who has endured endless criticism over the past few months for, among other things, a suspect work ethic, horrible leadership and a poor understanding of defenses. Smith may be lauded by some for his patience, but even that trait would be tested at Radio City Music Hall. Nattily attired in a charcoal suit, Smith sauntered down the red carpet in New York City last Thursday, beaming ear to ear. But by the end of the night, the 22-year-old was sulking and scowling. With a prime-time TV audience watching the humiliation, Smith never made it out of the green room, going undrafted in the first round despite being projected as a top 10 pick.
"It was tough to stomach," says Smith, who at first announced that he would leave town instead of sticking around for Friday night's second and third rounds. Persuaded by friends and family, he ultimately remained in Manhattan to have his moment on stage with commissioner Roger Goodell, which finally came at 7:07 p.m. on Friday when the Jets took him with the 39th choice. Smith wore a look of annoyance and a cream-colored sweater that his mother, Tracey Sellers, had purchased on Friday because no Day 2 outfit had been packed. His short trip from the green room looked more like a milelong walk of shame.
Still, the pick ignited cheers from a hometown crowd desperate for resolution of the Jets' crazy QB situation. By drafting Smith, New York essentially gave Mark Sanchez a vote of no confidence. And sure enough, within a half-hour of Smith's selection, reports surfaced that the four-year starter might soon be cut. (A conflicting report said otherwise on Sunday.) Later that night new G.M. John Idzik was noncommittal when asked whether Sanchez would be a Jet once organized team activities commenced in May. "Who knows what happens in the [next] two weeks before our rookie minicamp," he said. As for that other incumbent Jets passer, Idzik put an end to the Tim Tebow experiment on Monday, waiving the polarizing QB after one year.
Realistically, Sanchez, the fifth pick in 2009, is likely to be given a chance to start. He is, after all, guaranteed $8.25 million in '13, and cutting him would be a serious salary cap blow: a $12.3 million hit this year and $4.8 million next. But Sanchez's performance has fallen off dramatically since he played in the AFC title game in each of his first two seasons (14--17 as a starter over the last two years, with a league-high 52 turnovers, including one butt-fumble), and the Jets' roster is still packed like a clown car with QBs. Along with Sanchez and Smith, they have contracts with David Garrard (through '13), Greg McElroy ('14) and Matt Simms ('13). Hoping to defuse controversy, Idzik joked, "We're actually going to add two or three more before we get to camp."
May 6, 2013
Smith's drop to the second round suggests he's not a surefire savior, but his college numbers were impressive. He completed 71.2% of his passes as a senior, with 42 TDs, and he ran a 4.59 40-yard dash, speed that could allow New York to open up its offense. And unlike Sanchez, Smith is not hurting for confidence. "My goal," he says, "is to be a franchise quarterback."
The draft may be over, but by all appearances Mark Sanchez is now on the clock.