Driven largely by back-to-back classes flush with immediate impact players, expectations have changed for highly drafted rookie quarterbacks in the NFL.
Consider that two years ago, six of the top 35 picks were quarterbacks, and already three of them (oddly enough, the second three drafted -- Christian Ponder, Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick) have made playoff appearances and one (oddly enough again, the last of the six taken) has been to a Super Bowl.
Consider that last season, the top two picks in the 2012 draft (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III) both went to 2011 doormats and turned them into playoff teams. Russell Wilson went from third round afterthought to playoff starter as well.
So when teams and draft experts look at the QB class of 2013, to say they are underwhelmed might be an understatement.
The one quarterback that most people who follow the draft seem to agree has the makings to be worth taking in the top ten is West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. Despite the fact that he comes from a somewhat gimmicky offense, pro scouts seem to be enamored enough of his combination of size, arm strength, productivity and smarts to discuss him as a high first round pick with a believable straight face.
At least that's what I thought. And then I read Nolan Nawrocki's assessment of Geno Smith.
If that name sounds familiar, it's because it was about this time two years ago that Nawrocki, a draft analyst for Pro Football Weekly, briefly became a household name for those who follow the NFL Draft, fans of the Carolina Panthers (owner of the number one pick that year) and anyone related to Cam Newton, for it was back in 2011 that Nawrocki gave this searing assessment of Newton:
"Very disingenuous -- has a fake smile, comes off as very scripted and has a selfish, me-first makeup....Always knows where the cameras are and plays to them. Has an enormous ego with a sense of entitlement that continually invites trouble and makes him believe he is above the law -- does not command respect from teammates and will always struggle to win a locker room...Lacks accountability, focus and trustworthiness -- is not punctual, seeks shortcuts and sets a bad example. Immature and has had issues with authority. Not dependable."
At the time, this evaluation seemed harsh and much was made about how Nawrocki pulled no punches, but there wasn't a rush to Cam Newton's defense, largely because a) some of his exploits on Jon Gruden's QB Camp seemed to support this evaluation and b) for a variety of reasons, Cam Newton frankly wasn't very well liked by many fans to begin with.
(In retrospect, as Newton trudged through a pretty trying second season in 2012, a lot of what Nawrocki claimed about the former Heisman winner turned out to have some truth to it.)
Eventually, like most Internet cause célèbres, Nawrocki's Newton report card came and went. Once Newton was drafted, we all forgot about it and we all forgot about Nawrocki.
Then, out of nowhere, on Monday this week it was déjà vu all over again. Nawrocki bubbled to the surface once again, this time taking dead aim at Geno Smith with this scathing review of him as a player, a person, a teammate and a human being:
Not a student of the game. Nonchalant field presence -- does not command respect from teammates and cannot inspire. Mild practice demeanor -- no urgency. Not committed or focused -- marginal work ethic. Interviewed poorly at the Combine and did not show an understanding of concepts on the white board. Opted not to compete at the Senior Bowl and has approached offseason training as if he has already arrived and it shows in his body with minimal muscle definition or strength. Has small hands and glaring ball security issues (32 career fumbles). Really struggled handling the snow in Pinstripe Bowl (took two safeties) and will be troubled by the elements. Needed to be coddled in college -- cannot handle hard coaching.
A cross between Akili Smith and Aaron Brooks, Smith is a gimmick, overhyped product of the system lacking the football savvy, work habits and focus to cement a starting job and could drain energy from a QB room. Will be overdrafted and struggle to produce against NFL defensive complexities.
So why does Nawrocki go all "Nawrocki" on these guys? Guys like Newton and Smith? Well, any number of reasons have been floated out there, everything from Nawrocki being a Web site click whore to racism. (The most basic likelihood, that Nawrocki actually feels this way about Smith and so do a couple others he spoke with, never seems to get brought up as a possibility.) Regardless of the reasons Nawrocki decided to skewer Smith, the fact of the matter is that his assessment flies in the face of everything that Smith's coaches at West Virginia said privately and publicly about him. We had Smith's head coach, Dana Holgorsen; on every week during the season and even when West Virginia couldn't win a game to save their lives during the middle of the season in 2012, Holgorsen still gushed about Geno Smith. In fact, he tweeted as much on Tuesday:
Excited to celebrate w/@genosmith_12 on 4/25@ the NFL Draft. Geno's the hardest practicing QB & most gifted student of the game I've coached
— Dana Holgorsen (@Holgorsendana) April 2, 2013
In addition to Holgorsen's vouching for Smith, on Tuesday John Granato and I interviewed Jake Spavital, Smith's former position coach at WVU and current position coach for Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M.
In addition to numerous anecdotes Spavital had about Smith's work ethic and leadership, Granato asked Spavital point blank what his assessment of Smith would be if he were an NFL scout:
I'd say he's a first day starter. I may be a little biased because I coached the guy, but I've really admired his work ethic and how he approaches the game, and how he just wants to continually further his career.
Essentially, the entire Spavital interview embodies the opposite of what Nawrocki said about Smith, and unlike Nawrocki, Spavital was actually in QB rooms, practices, games, and leadership situations that contained or involved Geno Smith.
So it begs the question: Who exactly does Nolan Nawrocki get his information from?
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.
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