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Reminder: Geno Smith, Paxton Lynch were exciting prospects at one point

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NFL: Preseason-Denver Broncos at Seattle Seahawks Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

With continued fortune, none of the following however-many-words-this-take (writer’s note: it was too many words) should matter when it comes to the Seahawks. We hope to not see either of these two start a game for Seattle — ever — so this is more of a general piece of reflection. A reflection on college stats, the NFL Draft, quarterback competitions, and just how damn unlikely it is that any quarterback will ever succeed on the professional level.

This is a story about two quarterbacks who similarly went from high-profile prospects with boundless possibilities to those days being so forgotten about that we dread the idea of them having to take a snap in a regular season game. We dread the idea of the following 2,876 or so words mattering. If these two vying for the backup quarterback position were rookies, however, we’d be so curious to see them get their opportunities.

But that’s how far we’ve fallen in the collective perceptions of Geno Smith and Paxton Lynch.

A reputation tainted by two seasons of having to start for the Jets, Smith was once in the conversation as a potential Heisman winner at West Virginia and/or number one overall pick. After two seasons as a starter for the Mountaineers (55 TD, 14 INT in two seasons despite playing for two different head coaches), Smith, Tavon Austin, and Stedman Bailey were the college football storm-takers at the time under Dana Holgerson — and they lived up to the hype with a 5-0 start that included a 70-63 win over 25th-ranked Baylor and 48-45 over #11 Texas.

Smith’s stats through those five games:

166-of-204 (81.4% completions), 1,996 yards, 24 TD, 0 INT, 202.4 rating because it’s college and passer rating has no true meaning anyway.

Now ranked fifth in the country with a quarterback who was far-and-away the Heisman at that point, Smith and Holgerson had to downplay their success. Smith said he didn’t care about his gaudy stats. Holgerson found himself in the spotlight during his second season as the head coach following a career in which he helped popularize the spread out “Air Raid” offense with stops at Texas Tech, Houston, and Oklahoma State. He was around for the college careers of Brandon Weeden, Case Keenum, and Graham Harrell.


And then Holgerson had to face his old employers at Texas Tech. Smith didn’t throw any interceptions, but fifth-ranked WVU lost 49-14. The next week, Smith threw his first interception in nearly a full year and the Mountaineers lost 55-14 to Kansas State and new Heisman hopeful Collin Klein.

They then lost 39-38 in OT to a mediocre TCU team led by Trevone Boykin. Another former Holgerson employer, Oklahoma State, then beat them 55-34.

Finally, an exciting game against Oklahoma in which the Sooners blew a 14-point lead in the third quarter, then WVU blew a lead with under a minute left, OU ended up winning 50-49. The Mountaineers had fallen to 5-5 after a 5-0 start and Smith had gone from Tim Tebow-esque levels of college hype to posting completely human numbers during the losing streak.

A re-evaluation of those previous wins over Baylor and Texas (and, oh by the way, James Madison and Marshall and Maryland, where Smith stacked a good chunk of his touchdowns that season, plus EIGHT passing teedees against a Baylor team that was 113th in scoring defense) and the five-game losing streak had many re-thinking the idea of Smith as a first round pick, let alone first overall.

But not entirely out of the conversation.

Griffin III and Newton were both considered “system” quarterbacks when they left the college game for the NFL, and Smith will carry that label from West Virginia, but the proof is in results.

No matter what “system” a quarterback is playing in, if he can make the reads and make the throws he will be successful at the next level. Smith has all of the intangibles that will make him a threat when he enters the draft in April.

By season’s end Smith will be considered one of the top 5 quarterback draft picks for 2013.

Early 2013 Mock Draft

1. Kansas City Chiefs (currently 1-8, Projecting 3-13): QB Geno Smith, WVU

However, since this IS a franchise quarterback-driven league, Kansas City should look to replace Cassel immediately. Smith would be a good fit based on the Kansas City offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who likes deep passes. He’s definitely a better fit than Barkley.

And a reminder that some years, college just doesn’t give the NFL any real quarterbacks to choose from.

Currently, only West Virginia’s Geno Smith is competing with Barkley to be the No. 1 QB prospect for next year’s draft, but he has regressed in recent weeks after a blistering start. Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson is also in the mix because he has run a complex pro-style system under Bobby Petrino.

Despite the awful finish to the season, Smith could have still locked himself in as an early draft pick with a quality pre-draft resume.

He doesn’t lack any particular trait you look for in a quarterback prospect, except for the fact that his offense is almost overly pass oriented and he doesn’t have a ton of experience from under center. He has the ability to make plays with his legs and can hit all the throws.


He has really good footwork, and a quick, low release which can at times get knocked down at the line of scrimmage because he appears to release the ball right around his ear or slightly below. Sometimes he doesn’t go through all of his progressions and will settle for his first read, which is normally okay but he will need to work through some things as he progresses as a player. Smith has the ability to fit the body into tight windows, and when he hits his groove he can get really hot. Leads an explosive aerial attack, which will translate well to the NFL. Really productive player who I think has a chance to be a Pro Bowl caliber player at the NFL level.

But while Smith was fast at the Combine that year ... literally who cares? Smith is not a mobile quarterback, having rushed 245 times for 342 yards and four touchdowns at West Virginia. He took a shotgun snap and threw the ball. Over and over and over again. The Chiefs had the number one overall pick and ended up trading for Alex Smith because he actually is a mobile quarterback who could run Andy Reid’s offense. Some viewed Smith’s combine as a good thing, but many others solidified their previous opinion that the 2013 QB class is one of the worst in modern history.

As the 2013 draft approached, it became obvious that neither Smith nor Matt Barkley would be a top-five pick as it had been predicted months earlier. At that point, we should have started to give up high hopes that Smith would become a quality starting quarterback in the NFL. The first quarterback off the board had not been Smith or Barkley, but Florida State’s E.J. Manuel in the middle of round one to the Bills.

True to form in his first draft as the GM of the Jets, former Seattle front office exec John Idzik helped — alongside Manuel and Buffalo — Tom Brady and the Patriots win another three Super Bowls when New York picked Smith 39th overall. It’s easier for me to say that now because we know that Smith has failed at his starting career, but the odds of any second round QB becoming a quality starter are quite low.

QBs drafted in the 30-50 range since 2002 include Andy Dalton, Derek Carr, and Colin Kaepernick as the greatest success stories, with names like Pat White, Jimmy Clausen, Kellen Clemens feeling more truly representative of the expectations of the 39th overall pick.

Smith’s star didn’t fall after two years of being written about in the New York Post. Any real hope for Smith probably died during that five-game losing streak at West Virginia.

Past that nothing else really mattered. Being athletic doesn’t matter if you can’t go through your progressions. And studying a lot (as Smith was also praised for being a classroom, film study warrior) does not help you deal with the pressure of trying to beat a defense in under 2 seconds post-snap and you having to put your hand on a center’s butt for the first time.

Perhaps Smith’s time came too early and he served as more of a part of the revolution rather than one who gets to revel in the post-actually-air-raid-spread-offenses-are-okay era like Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield, and Patrick Mahomes get to do. Now Smith finds himself as a backup on his fourth team in four years (NYJ, NYG, LAC, SEA) with his 29th birthday in October. He’s having a cyst removed in his knee and will be out for at least a week, meaning that he’ll probably miss pWeek2 against the Vikings.

And that should give another former NFL draft prospect who lost all the hype a chance to shine again.

Paxton Lynch was only a “3-star” recruit, but he had to be one of the best prospects to ever choose Memphis for football, a school that has only had two non-special teamers ever be named as All-Americans — and both came after Lynch.

Lynch won the starting job as a freshman, throwing nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions during the Tigers’ inaugural season in the American Athletic Conference. In 2014, Lynch turned Memphis around, throwing 22 touchdowns and nine picks — with 13 more scores on the ground — as the Tigers finished 25th in the AP poll.

It was the first time Memphis had ever finished in the top 25.

During that offseason, people craved a Heisman candidate to come out of a school like Memphis, and Lynch’s 6’7 frame with ground-scoring acumen had fans salivating over the idea of a quarterback who could pull the Tigers into the national conversation — perhaps doing the same for their favorite NFL team some day.

After a 6-0 start, with a win over #13 Ole Miss fresh on their resume, Memphis went from unranked to 18th. They had never been higher than 25th. They next beat Tulsa and Tulane, easily in both cases. Lynch’s stats: 200-of-285 (70.2%), 2,709 yards, 18 TD, 1 INT, 170.2 rating. The rushing statistics were not nearly as impressive as they were a year earlier, but Lynch’s hot start in 2015 wasn’t that much different than Smith’s a few years prior.

Uhhh. Neither was the subsequent collapse.

Following all the Heisman and “number one overall pick” talk for Lynch that season was the part of a resume that you’d rather leave an employment gap. The Tigers lost four of their final five games and Lynch was never impressive other than in a 7-TD game against SMU — a school that finished 2nd-to-last in scoring defense in the country that year. His numbers that day were meaningless, which helps paint a picture of college numbers in general.

Smith and Lynch could beat up terrible competition while playing in and against schemes that simply didn’t exist with regularity in the NFL (Kliff Kingsbury may try to change that in Arizona) and that wasn’t doing them any favors, regardless of whether or not a bad GM uses a decent pick on either. For Smith, that was Idzik, but in the case of Paxton Lynch, we were further reminded that John Elway only knows how to play it, not how to pick it.

Lynch could have maybe helped his case at the combine more than Smith did — after all, he was somewhat productive as a runner in college and the idea of a 6’7 quarterback who could move was intriguing — but he proved to be far less of an athlete than someone like Carson Wentz, another quarterback coming out of a small school program.

Lynch ran a 4.86, Wentz a 4.77

Lynch a 7.14 in the 3-cone, Wentz a 6.86

Lynch was 4.26 in the short shuttle, Wentz was 4.15

And being an athlete isn’t everything (Lynch and Dak Prescott had somewhat similar combine numbers that year and Dak wasn’t getting any hype as a future starter, while Jared Goff was fine at the combine and also coming out of a spread offense) but for Lynch, it kind of had to be everything.

Another quarterback coming out that year was Cardale Jones, and he was not only heavier than Lynch, he was faster, with the same vertical. And Cardale had spent a few years at Ohio State, not Memphis. He didn’t have much of a college resume to speak of (other than a spotless win-loss record) but Cardale’s three wins on the way to the national championship in 2014 could be enough to outpace Lynch’s entire career at an AAC program. It was also said that Lynch performed poorly in combine interviews.

I recall Rob Staton liking Lynch more than both Goff and Wentz in 2016, but there were at least two teams that didn’t agree and they traded up to one and two to draft them. At pick 26, Elway traded up with the Seahawks to acquire Lynch and place him in a competition against former seventh round pick Trevor Siemian and the traded-for Mark Sanchez, a player who was ousted from his job in New York by the 2013 draft selection of Geno Smith.

It was a competition that nobody wanted Lynch to lose and he lost it gloriously.

Even with Sanchez cut, Siemian won the starting job and held onto it for the entire year save two games missed with injury. Lynch had a rating of 79.2 in 83 pass attempts, with 6 Y/A and nine sacks taken.

The “competition” only got less competitive in 2017, as head coach Vance Joseph eventually chose Siemian by default, Elway having done nothing to erase his first round choice a year earlier. So bad in fact was Denver at quarterback that Brock Osweiler ended up starting twice as many games as Lynch that season. This was after Osweiler had already left and returned after stops in Houston and Cleveland.

Lynch was eventually let go and he’s now competing with Smith to be Wilson’s backup. On Thursday against his old team, Lynch went 11-of-15 for 109 yards, one touchdown, and 38 yards on the ground with another score. Though Smith came into camp as the leader for the job by at least two laps, Lynch has nothing but opportunities ahead, including the likelihood that he’ll play almost the entire game against the Vikings next Sunday. Lynch also has some advantages over Smith, like age (he’s still only 25) and athleticism.

Even if being a little bit mobile couldn’t help either be an NFL-caliber starting quarterback, at least in Seattle’s case it should be slightly more beneficial to have someone who can tuck and run. However, Lynch has a disadvantage of being really bad at football.

It is rare to find a first round pick who couldn’t make it onto the field one time as a starter for reasons other than the other guy(s) being injured. Lynch was hand chosen by Elway to be Denver’s franchise quarterback, meaning that Elway had every motivation possible to even force Joseph to start the first rounder at some point, but nothing was enough for it to actually happen. And not because of injury. And the quarterback he couldn’t beat out was Trevor Siemian.

There have been 68 QBs drafted in the first round since 1990, and Lynch likely falls in the bottom 10-percent of those. For Seahawks fans I can put it another way: he’s Dan McGwire.

The 6’8 McGwire was a first round pick, went to a bad team, couldn’t beat out bad quarterbacks, and was third string by his second year. I’m sure you know the story even better than I do. But on the surface, it’s virtually the same as Lynch. So far.

Smith and Lynch are unlikely to ever carve out an NFL career as a starter. There’s argument to be made that Smith never got the chance he deserved in New York, but it’s impossible to keep a good quarterback as a hidden secret; if Smith was shining in his time with the Giants or Chargers, even as a backup, we would have known it. Those teams would have known it and they wouldn’t have let him go for free. (Not that we can’t be suspicious of the brain trust in those organizations.)

That being said, both still have an opportunity to have an NFL career in the years to come. The Seahawks have shuffled through a number of backups in season and in camp the last eight years of Wilson, including Matt Flynn, Tarvaris Jackson, Brady Quinn, Trevone Boykin, Austin Davis, and Brett Hundley. In any of those cases you can find times in their careers where they seemed like they could be special. Quinn especially seems to represent what Geno and Paxton bring to the table and he didn’t even make the team. Seattle is likely going another year without a backup to be hopeful for...

But let’s hope it’s another year where we don’t have to.