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It is mid-morning on April 4, and Geno Smith has just said goodbye to Chip Kelly, having spent much of the previous day with the Eagles' coach and his staff. And as Smith stands at the US Airways counter in the Philadelphia International Airport, he's hemorrhaging money.
That is not to say that his NFL stock is slipping—that a harshly negative scouting report released three days earlier by Pro Football Weekly will necessarily cost him millions. No, it is to say that the 22-year-old quarterback out of West Virginia is actually shedding cash. Informed by an effusive ticket agent named Charlene that it will cost him $25 to check his Tumi suitcase, Smith plunged a fist into the right, front pocket of his khaki trousers, and the act of withdrawing that paw has unleashed a shower of crumpled bills and wadded-up receipts onto the floor.
"Look at this guy throwing money all over the place," jokes Charlene, who exclaims, while looking over Smith's driver's license, "October 10th—that's my son's birthday. And mine's October 1st. Libras in the house!" As they bump fists, she asks, "Who did you say you're with?"
Smith hasn't said—partly because he's modest and partly because he isn't with anyone quite yet. This Philly trip is one of three visits to NFL teams in four days, bookended by Kansas City and Buffalo. And he'll spend time with at least that many more clubs before traveling to New York City for the April 25 draft.
The journey, which Smith has dubbed his World Tour, is a reward of sorts: He is an exceptional athlete on the cusp of the next level. But it's also an exercise in intrigue and, in some cases, futility, as teams that would seem to have little interest in drafting him profess having such an interest, with the aim of ginning up interest from teams who might be inclined to trade up for Smith.
After putting up sensational statistics in his three years as a starter for the Mountaineers—he passed for a career 11,658 yards and 98 touchdowns against 21 interceptions—the 6'2", 218-pound Smith finds himself in a confusing limbo. Yes, he's likely to be the first quarterback off the board. But that distinction, like dating Kim Kardashian or winning the NIT, has lost much of its cachet in 2013. No offense to Smith, USC's Matt Barkley, N.C. State's Mike Glennon, Syracuse's Ryan Nassib, Florida State's EJ Manuel or Oklahoma's Landry Jones, but NFL personnel types cite this as the most underwhelming QB crop in years. Certainly it appears to be a marked drop-off from '12, when Andrew Luck (Colts), Robert Griffin III (Redskins) and Ryan Tannehill (Dolphins) were taken in the first eight picks. Want depth? Russell Wilson, who led the Seahawks further into the playoffs than any of the above, lasted until the third round, and four other rookies got starts.
This year the Chiefs hold the No. 1 choice. But rather than anointing Geno Smith his signal-caller of the future, first-year coach Andy Reid traded last month for the 49ers' Alex Smith, then signed former Saint and longtime Drew Brees backup Chase Daniel to a relatively lucrative three-year, $10 million deal. (True, Daniel has attempted only nine passes in four seasons—but he's completed seven of them!)
The quarterback-starved Raiders (No. 3) and Bills (No. 8) also took long looks at Smith, including attending his pro day on March 14, when he completed 60 of 64 passes. Then they cut deals with unproven veterans Matt Flynn and Kevin Kolb, respectively. But the unkindest cut came from Pro Football Weekly draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki, who took a flamethrower to Smith's reputation with a viciously negative scouting report that was posted online on April 1.
Nawrocki was not fooling. He knocked Smith's "average field vision and coverage recognition" and forced throws. The report chided him for taking "unnecessary sacks" and not feeling pressure well. "Not an elusive scrambler. Shaky lower-body mechanics." So what if he ran a 4.59 40 at the combine, faster than any other passer? Smith was cursed with "pin legs and bad pocket posture."
Many of the criticisms of Smith's on-field play are reasonable—but not all of them. Nawrocki is a widely respected reporter who has been criticized in the past when his football analysis has ventured into the realm of psychoanalysis. Two years ago he raised eyebrows with his takedown of Auburn's Cam Newton, whom he excoriated for his "fake smile" and "selfish, me-first makeup." Newton, he concluded, "does not command respect from teammates and will always struggle to win a locker room."