On a night where WVU fans were thrilled to see the meteoric rise of Tavon Austin up the draft boards to the point that the St. Louis Rams actually traded up to get him, we also saw the other side of the coin with the sad green room saga of Geno Smith.
Smith, who was at one time the projected top overall pick and entered Thursday night on many boards as the top quarterback available, slipped from the first round of the NFL draft, his anguish laid bare for all to see as he was a guest in the draft "green room," a holding area for prospective picks. One of 23 players invited to the event, he was one of only 3 to go undrafted in the first round (the others were Menelik Watson of Florida State and Eddie Lacey of Alabama).
Smith's story was particularly painful as ESPN made it a priority to keep their cameras on him at all times, and as the night got longer and Smith remained un-chosen, his frustration was clear and discomfort apparent - at one point he was captured on live TV with his face buried in his hands. The night ended with his unceremonious exit from Radio City Music Hall in New York City, where he declined a request to be interviewed by ESPN's Suzy Kolber and simply said he was leaving to go back home, saying only that he would "play with a chip on his shoulder, even bigger than the one that was there before."
It's worth mentioning that the league landscape simply didn't have much demand for the services of a new quarterback as the past couple years have seen the emergence of the most talented group of young signalcallers in a generation, with players like Aaron Rogers, Colin Kaepernick and Joe Flacco leading the way. The evidence of this new era was clear on draft day, as only a single quarterback was selected in the first round - the Buffalo Bills selected E.J. Manuel of Florida State (who left Tallahassee having thrown 47 touchdowns in his entire career - only 5 more than Smith threw in 2012 alone).
Offensive linemen to protect those young franchise QBs were instead in much demand, with a record 9 being selected among the 32 picks - including 3 of the first 4. In fact only 4 "skill" position players were selected - and one of those was a tight end (Tyler Eifert of Notre Dame). No running backs were selected and only a pair of wideouts went - Austin and Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson.
It was not a typical draft.
Aside from his wounded pride however, it's easy to see how the evening's events could work out better for Smith in the long term. The only team that seemed to have any interest in drafting a quarterback high - the Bills - are far from a winning franchise and haven't emerged victorious from a playoff game since 1995 when Smith was 5 years old. By slipping to the second day (and round) of the draft, Smith has a better opportunity to catch on with a team that won't necessarily be asking ask him to step into a difficult situation and win immediately. Such tasks have in the past seemed to extract too physical a toll on talents like David Carr and Tim Couch, forcing them out a league that they never had much of a shot in.
Instead Smith could be given the luxury of catching on with a team that has many pieces in place and perhaps even a solid starter - but could always use an emerging talent. The saga of Colin Kaepernick taught us that no starting job is sacred and talent will always win. The opportunity to grow into a job as opposed to be thrust on stage could afford Smith a greater chance for success. A single night of infamy could one day soon seem a small price to pay for a better chance at winning.
It was a tough night for Smith but is only the beginning. We'll keep you abreast of developments tomorrow as the draft enters its second round.........
TV coverage begins at 6:30 EST on the NFL Network.