NFL Draft: This Year's Shock Would Be Any Other Year's Lock
In any other NFL draft, you'd expect the glory boys to be out in numbers.
But this year, conventional wisdom says that not one quarterback will be chosen in the first round. And do know that the NFL bows down to the temple of conventional wisdom. It's the ultimate corporate sport.
During the past two seasons of his Mountaineer career, Smith was the focal point of Dana Holgorsen's Air Raid attack, where he rarely lined up under center. This suited his skills well; Smith put up impressive numbers. Still, he's not the prototypical NFL quarterback, lining up under center.
Tarnished golden boy Matt Barkley must still be wondering what hit him in 2012. Odds-on to be the undisputed top pick this year after spurning his chance to be the undisputed top pick last year, Barkley learned a hard lesson about having a bird in the hand. Instead, he got a separation in the shoulder, the result of a smackdown in the midst of a total USC meltdown at the hands of crosstown rival UCLA.
What was Barkley thinking last spring? Yes, the Trojans finished strong in 2011, but they did it with mirrors and good fortune. There were still going to be NCAA-sanctioned scholarship limitations. Injuries were going to deplete their talent sooner or later. It turned out to be sooner ... and often. A thin offensive line, a non-existent running game, and USC had no choice but to over-use Barkley's heretofore golden arm. It's put his once-certain golden payday in jeopardy.
To be sure, a totally healthy Barkley still would have had some skeptics. There were doubts about his arm strength and precision passing ability. At USC, he was often throwing to wide open receivers on 3-to-5-yard slants and then watching them ring up his passing stats with long runs after the catch. That doesn't happen often in the NFL.
Having said all that, here's what I think will be the shocker when Commissioner Goodell steps to the podium this spring and announces the first-rounders one by one:
Either Smith or Barkley is going to get called in the first round. Maybe both.
At least ten teams need a quarterback to plan around for the long term: the Chiefs, Jaguars, Raiders, Eagles, Browns, Cardinals, Bills, Jets, Titans, and Vikings. Who knows? Maybe even the Broncos will make a play so an aging Peyton Manning has an understudy to groom. Barkley could be a solid choice for multi-season development, just like they all did in the old days.
Then there's the Chip Kelly factor. New England's Bill Belichick benefitted from adapting some of the former Oregon Duck coach's wide open strategies, as did San Francisco. And now Kelly's in their midst, at the helm of the Eagles. Geno Smith could fit like a glove into such an offense.
If watching the draft over the past years has taught me anything, it's to expect anything, even in a league devoted to conventional wisdom. Then again, Al Davis was alive for all those drafts.
I still expect someone to fill his shoes in that role this year, if not for the sake of his memory, then for the sake of their job. Barkey and Smith will prove to be worth the first-round attention.