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Is Geno Smith a Lost Cause as a Runner?


I’m not going to lie, a big part of my fascination with Geno Smith is that I hope that he can provide the kind of fantasy returns that Cam Newton and RGIII have provided in recent years.  Until recently, I didn’t really think that Geno Smith would have running potential because I heard all fall that carrying the football just wasn’t his game.  That’s fine and I get the sense based on some of Geno’s comments that he doesn’t want to be known as a running quarterback.  But for a rookie, running the football can provide pretty consistent fantasy points.  Also, I remember hearing that RGIII wasn’t a very good runner last year too and he seemed to do just fine.

Geno clocked a sub-4.60 at the Combine, so you know that if he takes off, he can carry the ball some distance before he gets run out of bounds.  He’s not as fast as RGIII, or as big as Cam Newton, but that might not matter because some amount of the time that QBs tuck it and run, they’re running to empty field.

In any event, I wanted to look at the issue a little more closely so I dove into the CFB play-by-play database.  One of the things you can do with PBP data is remove runs for a loss or no gain from the equation.  College rushing stats don’t distinguish between runs and sacks, so I wanted to do this to see what happens when a QB gets beyond the line of scrimmage.  To add context to the exercise I have Geno compared to some other recent NFL draft picks in the table below.

The column labeled “Over 5” is just how many runs the QB had over 5 yards.  The “Over 20” column should also make sense now.  The “5s that Become 20s” is the % of runs of at least 5 yards that are also at least 20 yards.  On a small sample, Geno looks pretty respectable on that number.  He’s not much worse than Russell Wilson and he’s slightly better than RGIII.  So is it reasonable to think we might get 20 rushing yards per game out of a rookie Geno, while he adjusts to the pro game and maybe tucks the ball and runs for a first down when it’s there?  I’m cautiously optimistic.  If you go to Youtube and watch Geno’s running touchdown on the broken play against Marshall, I don’t think you could say he can’t run. I think it’s just more likely he chooses not to, or that WVU never asked him to do it.

NAME SCHOOL SEAS YDS Rushes Over 5 Over 20 5s that Become 20s YPC
Joe Webb UAB 2009 1616 175 90 16 0.18 9.23
Ryan Tannehill Texas A&M 2011 355 36 20 3 0.15 9.86
Cameron Newton Auburn 2010 1662 216 90 13 0.14 7.69
Russell Wilson Wisconsin 2011 484 53 28 4 0.14 9.13
EJ Manuel Florida State 2012 516 62 37 5 0.14 8.32
Geno Smith West Virginia 2012 318 44 23 3 0.13 7.23
Blaine Gabbert Missouri 2010 432 64 27 3 0.11 6.75
Robert Griffin III Baylor 2011 906 122 57 6 0.11 7.43
Colt McCoy Texas 2009 559 79 35 3 0.09 7.08
Jake Locker Washington 2010 542 74 38 3 0.08 7.32
Zac Dysert Miami (Ohio) 2012 488 66 33 2 0.06 7.39
Josh Freeman Kansas State 2008 538 79 41 2 0.05 6.81
Matt Scott Arizona 2012 632 86 51 2 0.04 7.35
Andy Dalton TCU 2010 512 70 34 1 0.03 7.31

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