A second look
Teams like QB Akili Smith -- what they've seen of him
Posted: Thursday April 15, 1999 05:23 PM
SAN DIEGO (CNN/SI) -- Akili Smith has NFL scouts doing double takes. At first glance, he looks very much like a No. 1 draft pick. Heís a 6-foot-3, 220-pound rifle-armed quarterback who threw 32 touchdown passes his senior year at Oregon.
Then come the longer, critical looks. And they are understandable, because 1998 was Smithís only full season of major college football.
"You know, I basically came out of nowhere. I had a decent junior year, nothing too spectacular," Smith said. "Put in a lot of hard work and had a great one year and now people are starting to question it a little bit."
Sunday's NFL Draft is top-heavy with good quarterbacks -- Kentucky's Tim Couch, Syracuse's Donovan McNabb, Central Florida's Daunte Culpepper, just to mention a few -- but Smith's senior year may have catapulted him to the very top.
"What you saw as a senior is a guy who really looked polished, really came on strong, throws a tremendous ball, has the arm strength and accuracy that you look for," Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy said. "One thing he doesnít have is the track record of the other guys who have been playing for three and four years."
That, of course, has some NFL coaches and personnel experts worried as they try to figure out whether 1998 was a fluke or just a taste of things to come for Smith.
"Youíre pretty much banking on one year, looking at what he did last year at Oregon, said new Baltimore Ravens head coach Brian Billick. "He split time the year before, he was at [junior college] the year before that. So the only nervousness you might have is youíre banking it all on a one-shot deal."
Smithís performance on a written exam that measures basic intelligence also is mandating further review. On the Wunderlich test administered at the scouting combine, Smith scored a 37, more than doubling the score he posted a year earlier.
A tutor, hired by agent Leigh Steinberg helped Smith tackle the test.
"Whatever they test is obviously valuable to teams and they rely on it, so it made sense to look at it," Steinberg said. "I had not done that before with a player but I think Iíll do it afterwards."
Smith has a history of taking advantage of second chances. He was briefly suspended at Oregon after near-failing grades and several run-ins with the law before returning for his remarkable senior season. And he tried one professional sports career, playing baseball in the minor leagues for two years, before returning home to San Diego to give football a chance.
"Football has always been my first love, but at the time I had went through some trouble and I didnít pass the SAT back in í93 and it really made my decision quite easy to pick baseball," Smith said. "It just didnít go well. I wasnít as focused as I am now."
Smith insists his uneven road to the draft -- which included arrests for assault and drunken driving -- ultimately strengthened his character; and he says on draft day his checkered past shouldn't outweigh his talent.
"Well you can just see it. Just a flick of the wrist he can throw the ball 55-60 yards downfield, no effort," said Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan. "You can see the arm strength. You can see he doesnít have to wind up. He can make a throw that only a great athlete can make."
Smith is almost certainly one of the Top 10 picks, according to most draft experts. The expansion Cleveland Browns, who pick No. 1, are in need of a quarterback to groom, as are the Philadelphia Eagles (who pick No. 2). Even the Cincinnati Bengals, who select No. 3, have said they're leaning toward taking a quarterback.
"Of course I feel like I should be the first pick," Smith said. "Cleveland has the first pick, itís going to be a big decision for them starting a new franchise over again and hopefully theyíre going to make the right decision."
About that, Smith has no second thoughts.
Copyright © 1999 CNN/SI. A Time Warner Company.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.