There is one tool that NFL scouts use to evaluate players that has nothing to do with times in the 40-yard dash or completion percentages or any of the other standard measures you hear about. In fact, you can't even put a number on this evaluation, because it's completely subjective. But it's often a better barometer for a player's progress than any statistic you'd want to assign him.
It's called the "eye test."
It's what you feel about a player when you trust what you're seeing with your own eyes. And after what we've seen from Jets quarterback Geno Smith in more than a month's worth of work in training camp and many more weeks and months of offseason preparation before that, there's really no doubt.
Right now, Geno passes the eye test.
Right here, right now, there's no question he's the right choice for the Jets to begin the season as their No. 1 quarterback.
Rex Ryan finally admitted the obvious after Friday night's preseason game against the Giants, installing Smith as his Week 1 starter against the Raiders. Ryan didn't want to take it any further than that, calling Smith his "week-to-week" starter, preferring not to get into a muddled situation by making it more permanent.
He knows there's no such thing as permanent in this league, especially when it comes to quarterbacks. Remember, this is the coach who once said he didn't want to have anyone other than Mark Sanchez as his quarterback as long as he was coaching the Jets. How'd that turn out? No, Ryan has learned the hard way that treading carefully with what you say is the preferred choice when it comes to managing your quarterback situation.
But all the evidence Ryan has seen from Smith so far -- from the quarterback's impressive late-season rally after a dreadful sequence of games, to his tireless preparation in the offseason and now to a smooth transition into the preseason -- the coach's choice is the correct one.
Smith is a promising young quarterback on a promising young team, and his body of work over the summer has reflected genuine improvement, an increased command inside his own huddle, and a much more comfortable feeling from him when running the offense. He's seeing the field better than this time a year ago. In fact, this time a year ago, he was dissecting a three-interception night against the Giants, a performance that indicated he just wasn't ready.
And had it not been for Ryan's ill-fated decision to put Sanchez back in the game in the fourth quarter, Smith might very well have started his rookie season holding a clipboard. Instead, Sanchez suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, and Smith got his chance earlier than he might have deserved.
But he performed admirably enough to merit consideration as the longer-term starter, even after the Jets parted ways with Sanchez and signed the 34-year-old Michael Vick to a one-year deal. After all, it wasn't as if Smith showed little progress as a rookie; he was an 8-8 quarterback, which means some of it was bad, but some of it was good.
If this was a 3-13 team, we'd be seeing him through a vastly different prism, one that would include a strong possibility of using Vick as the starter.
But even though there was no truly open competition here, Smith elevated his game as if there was one. And that's really the bottom line; if the idea is to see your younger players take the next step in their development, then the plan worked, because Smith is a much more polished quarterback.
"I think he's taken off from where he left off," Ryan said. "I expect great things in the future from him."
There is no guarantee, of course. Smith's improvement might not immediately translate into the regular season, especially with a difficult schedule looming after the opener against Oakland. Five of the next eight games are against playoff teams, and a significant regression from Smith over that period will give Ryan justification for considering a change to Vick.
But you don't make decisions about a Week 1 starter based on what might happen after that. As a coach, you go by what you see. And right now, Ryan sees that Smith has aced the "eye test."
Right call, coach.