Jarrett Bell, USA TODAY Sports 7:30 a.m. EDT April 22, 2013
Not a student of the game. Not committed or focused. Marginal work ethic. When a Pro Football Weekly scouting report on West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith surfaced recently, containing damning proclamations by analyst Nolan Nawrocki about the habits of the top-rated passer in the NFL draft, it made me shake my head. Here we go again. Two years ago, Cam Newton was slammed by Nawrocki for having a “fake smile” and setting a bad example while carrying a sense of entitlement. Last year, in a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel report, Robert Griffin III was knocked by unnamed scouts for how he “deals with people.” This is the same RGIII who has been nothing less than a class act while positioned, like Newton, as one of the NFL’s marquee attractions for the future.
West Virginia Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith looks to pass against the TCU Horned Frogs during the fourth quarter at Milan Puskar Field in November.(Photo: Charles LeClaire, USA TODAY Sports)
Now another African-American quarterback has some vicious stereotypes circulating about him that people who have gotten to know Smith insist couldn’t be farther from the truth. Never mind the 42 touchdown passes (against six interceptions) last season, behind a shaky offensive line. Forget that the kid, who completed 71.2% of his passes in 2012, is the type to be found studying film hours after throwing for six TDs, or that his coaches rave about his drive. Geno Smith, too, has to pay a black tax. Even in 2013, it’s apparent that conditions remain in this society where analysis and opinions are seemingly clouded by racial bias. It’s easy to slap a stereotypical label on a minority — from quarterbacks to the blue-collar men on the street — without the benefit of doubt. Hopefully, as a group, NFL decision-makers are beyond this. Regardless, it’s a shame that such garbage is put out there in the first place. “It’s like people make this stuff up,” says Bucky Brooks, an analyst for NFL Network and NFL.com. “They are still perpetuating myths, using code words.” Warren Moon can relate. In 2006, Moon was the first African-American quarterback inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. When he came out of Washington as the Rose Bowl MVP in 1978, NFL people wanted him to switch positions. Instead, undrafted by the NFL, he tore up the Canadian Football League for six years with the Edmonton Eskimos before getting his NFL shot. The knocks on Smith don’t sit well with Moon. “It sounds the same as two years ago,” Moon told USA TODAY Sports. “It just shows that there are a lot of people in society who have the biases and stereotypes. And most of it is about your integrity or leadership or work ethic — all of these intangible things.” Smith is nobody’s Andrew Luck or RGIII, but he is an undoubtedly pivotal piece of the draft puzzle. There’s a wide range of speculation about where he will land. Maybe the Oakland Raiders, despite having Matt Flynn, still take Smith at No. 3 overall? If not, the Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills and even the New York Jets could be in play for Smith — or Florida State’s EJ Manuel or Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib at a lower cost on the draft board. As for Smith, let Trent Dilfer weigh in. The former Super Bowl champ runs the Elite 11 passing camp, matching top college quarterbacks with hot-shot high school prospects. Of the six college quarterbacks who worked the camp last summer in Redondo Beach, Calif., Smith was the only one who arrived with full knowledge of the 89-page playbook Dilfer put together and sent to participants three weeks before camp opened. “Geno showed up, and on Day 1, he could have taught it,” Dilfer told USA TODAY Sports. “He didn’t just know it, he owned it. “The Pro Football Weekly report should be discarded,” Dilfer added. “It’s almost laughable, the stuff he put in there.” Since the report surfaced April 1, Smith has had so many credible voices eagerly refute the labels spewed out as knocks. That says something, too. Smith has some believers. Soon, he will also have the opportunity to demonstrate whether he possesses the commitment and skill to hack it on the next level.