The perception around the NFL of Geno Smith is, frankly, that he stinks.
That’s why, when Smith became a free agent this offseason, the best deal he could find was the one-year, $1.2 million contract he signed with the Giants. And that’s why everyone was so stunned this week when the Giants benched Eli Manning for Smith.
But although Smith hasn’t played much recently, his last five NFL starts show that he does have some promise — he actually played pretty well when he was last a starter.
You can be forgiven if you’ve forgotten that: Smith started just one game for the Jets over the last two years, and he suffered a torn ACL in that start and didn’t finish the game. That doesn’t change the fact, however, that he was playing well: He threw a 69-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter before his knee injury.
In 2015 Smith only played in one game, when Ryan Fitzpatrick got hurt. But he played well in that game, completing 27 of 42 passes for 265 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception, and also rushing for 34 yards on two carries.
Smith hasn’t been the established starter since 2014, and that season he struggled and was benched at one point. But by the end of the year he was playing well: In the last four games of that season his passer rating was 105.3. And in the final game of 2014, Smith played the best game of his career, with a perfect 158.3 passer rating in a win over the Dolphins. Smith’s strong play at the end of 2014 made him the Jets’ unquestioned starter heading into 2015 — until he suffered a broken jaw when punched by a teammate in training camp.
None of this makes Smith a better quarterback than Manning. But it does suggest that he might be better than most people think. He’ll get the chance to prove that on Sunday.