The Buccaneers added a quarterback and wide receiver from a middling Mountain West program. So why is there reason to be excited about either one?
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't get great value with every pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, but they certainly made up for it with their final pick, and one of their first major undrafted free agent signings by adding University of Wyoming teammates Robert Herron and Brett Smith.
Herron, a short, shift receiver, was the Bucs' final pick of the draft, while Smith, an athletic quarterback prospect, was an undrafted free agent. So why should a pair of Wyoming prospects excite Buccaneer fans?
Herron is a dangerously fast receiver who will only be limited by his size and technique in the NFL. Standing only 5'10" or less, Herron doesn't have any physical advantage over defensive backs, and despite a decent amount of weight on his frame, he's not going to out-muscle DBs at the line of scrimmage.
The good thing for Bucs' fans is just how difficult it is to get Herron jammed at the line. He's shifty in addition to being fast, and he's more than capable of making a quick move to break past a defensive back at the line of scrimmage.
And when a DB isn't in Herron's face, and he's allowed room to work, he's a home-run threat on every play. He's an excellent screen receiver, and is also capable on comebacks and slants. There are some who question his willingness and ability to go over the middle of the field, but I didn't see anything that worried me on that front.
Herron will thrive in the slot in the NFL, especially with big, strong targets all around him who will command the big, strong defensive backs the other team has to offer. Putting Herron up against a nickel defender (or a linebacker or safety) is going to be a good matchup for the Bucs 9 times out of 10.
Derrik Klassen of eDraft compared Brett Smith to Tony Romo, and I certainly see the resemblance. Smith is nowhere near the polished, capable passer Romo is as an NFL veteran, but he has a quick release and accurate but not overpowering arm that resembles the Cowboy's franchise QB.
Klassen also notes that Smith has a very odd delivery, at times resembling a baseball pitcher rather than a quarterback. The tape confirms, as Smith's body leans into his throws and his legs will shift and kick in strange ways on certain throws.
The shocking part of all that is that Smith still finds a way to be productive despite this strange delivery. He'll need to be taught how to throw the ball properly before he becomes an NFL regular, but he has an understanding of ball placement and timing within an offense, and when he gets his feet right, his passes are fun to watch.
Smith is very productive throwing on the run to either side, as his odd delivery seems to benefit him when his feet are on the move.
QB guru and NFL writer Benjamin Allbright passed along his notes on Smith to me, and he points out that flawed mechanics also impact Smith's deep ball, as he doesn't transfer his weight during his throwing motion on deep balls, and winds up just floating passes well beyond his target.
Of his general mechanics, Allbright had this to say:
Some of the bad habits he’s developed look to be the result of playing behind a poor line, and not having time to develop good habits, but he’ll need to clean them up at the pro level.
He has one of the fastest releases of the football in this class, and that has helped to bail him out at times. He’ll need a dedicated QB coach at the pro level to rework some of his mechanics, specifically in his drop back.
When watching Smith, I see a player with tools and ability, but none of the refinement. There's a very high ceiling for Smith, but there's also a very low floor. With his mechanics as they are, he's a total failure as an NFL player.
But that's why Smith fell out of the draft, and will now get a chance to prove himself, much like Romo did out of college. Smith has to clean up his mechanics and footwork, as well as get used to an NFL-style offense with traditional dropbacks and a real offensive line to provide him with a reasonable pocket to throw from.
In an interview with Peter Smith of With The First Pick, Smith said that he knows his mechanics need work, and that he specifically watches Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers to see how they set their feet and establish their base while throwing. (In the rest of the interview, he shows an obvious knowledge of his flaws, and speaks with a solid understanding of his shortcomings.)
Jeff Tedford, the man who coached Aaron Rodgers in college, should then be a good mentor for the young Smith, who is a moldable prospect with potential to be the same sort of athletic playmaker under center that Rodgers is, but with a lot of work and refinement between now and then.
The question is, can Smith make himself relevant enough to hang on the roster long enough to reach those heights? A coach like Jeff Tedford will bang on the table to keep Smith around, but will a defensive-minded head coach like Lovie Smith find a way to push Smith off the roster before he gets a chance to take a step forward?
Based on what I've seen and heard, I hope Smith and company give Smith a reasonable chance to improve. There's a lot to like about Smith, and based on his words and actions, he's only going to get better.