Matt Waldman’s Rookie Scouting Portfolio NFL Lens explains why quarterback Alex Smith must become more decisive in the deep game or else he won’t reprise his career-best performance in the vertical game in 2018.
Statistically, Alex Smith was one of the best vertical throwers of 2018. Last year’s data also reveals that Smith’s receivers earned more yards of separation from coverage than any corps in the league. And last year was the first season that the Chiefs offense fully embraced the college spread scheme.
It’s not a coincidence that Smith had his best season as a 13-year pro — including his vertical game.
The Chiefs receiving corps earned a lot of this separation thanks to a scheme that created mismatches in the middle of the field by pitting speedy receivers and tight ends against overwhelmed safeties and linebackers as well as creating blown coverage responsibilities with pre-snap shifts and astute personnel pairings in stacked alignments.
Washington hasn’t done this with its offense. Jay Gruden’s scheme is closer to a traditional West Coast Scheme and if that’s what we should expect in 2018, expect more hesitation from Smith like the play below — the type of tentative play that’s common to many quarterbacks in the deep game that can lead to missed opportunities and turnovers.
When Smith didn’t have the extreme mismatches that created huge gaps of separation for his receivers, his deep game looked more like that of his previous 12 years as an NFL quarterback. Movement tells us a lot about a player’s decision-making, aggression, and confidence. On this play, Smith’s feet in context with the timing of the route indicates tentative decision-making and a lack of confidence to execute at the earliest moment he recognizes the target opportunity.
If Smith were confident he wouldn’t have hitched multiple times on this play when he was staring at the target downfield. This type of movement is something you want to note about quarterback play at every level.
If Smith can limit this hesitant behavior in Washington, he has the rebounders in Paul Richardson and Josh Doctson to serve him well. If he can’t — and he has been reticent about throwing 50/50 targets during his NFL career — Smith won’t look like the 2017 version of the player many are excited about.
While many are talking about the scheme making Jared Goff a better player, it might be more appropriate to apply that idea to Smith.
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