Could Geno Smith be the NFL’s next late-blooming star?

The Seattle Seahawks were supposed to be a rebuilding mess in 2022. Instead, they’re fun and competitive, largely because Geno Smith is emerging.

Most star NFL quarterbacks follow similar scripts. High draft picks, relatively early success and sustained excellence for a memorable period of time.

Then there are the Rich Gannon of the world.

Over his first 12 NFL seasons, Gannon was primarily a backup. He started 58 games (31-27) and threw for 11,158 yards and 66 touchdowns. In that span, Gannon played for the Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins and Kansas City Chiefs, never sniffing any glory.

In 1999, everything changed for Gannon. He signed with the Oakland Raiders and began a string of four consecutive Pro Bowl seasons, earning two First-Team All-Pro berths and capping the run by winning the 2002 NFL MVP award and making a Super Bowl appearance.

Enter Geno Smith, perhaps the league’s newest Gannon-type development.

Smith was drafted two rounds higher than Gannon, becoming a second-round choice in 2013 after a productive career at West Virginia. The New York Jets made him an immediate starter on a bad team, and poor results followed. From ’13-21, Smith started 34 games — 29 coming in his first two campaigns — and threw for 6,917 yards with 34 touchdowns against 37 interceptions.

Unlike Gannon, Smith wasn’t considered a top backup. He was a bust, potential unfulfilled, bouncing from the Jets to the New York Giants and Los Angeles Chargers before finally landing with the Seattle Seahawks two years ago.

Suddenly, Smith is emerging.

Through five games this season, Smith has guided Seattle to the league’s most-surprising offensive powerhouse. Entering Week 6, the Seahawks rank seventh in points, eighth in yards and 11th in passing. Smith has thrown for 1,305 yards and nine touchdowns, putting him on pace for 4,437 yards and 31 scoring strikes. Maybe not Mahomesian, but pretty damn good.

Speaking with one source in Seattle, the Seahawks have been seeing growth for years while Smith waited for his moment.

“His accuracy has been one of his strengths since being around him,” the source texted to FanSided. “And with the level of confidence he’s playing with it is on full display. His ability to study, work hard and continue to develop while he was a backup led him to being totally prepared when his next opportunity to be a starter presented itself.”

And for Smith, his ascension can’t only be measured in the statistics, but the quality of throws. Take last week in New Orleans as an example, during a wild 39-32 loss to the Saints. Smith threw multiple deep dimes, keeping Seattle in the game despite another horrific defensive showing.

Of all Smith’s improved metrics, none is more jarring than his completion percentage. Prior to 2022, Smith had completed 58.8 percent of his passes. This year, he’s leading the league at 75.2 percent. And while many quarterbacks have seen upticks in their completion rate over the past decade with the influx of quick-game tactics, that hasn’t been the driving force of Smith’s renaissance.

In fact, using the NFL’s Next Gen Stats chart of Smith’s season thus far, he’s thriving throwing the ball downfield and especially in intermediate areas. On second-level throws between 10-20 yards, Smith’s passer rating is over 102 in every area, while the league average isn’t better than 87.5 in any of those spaces.

This offseason, it seemed as though Seattle was initiating an enormous rebuild. The Seahawks traded nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos, receiving a massive return including two first- and second-round picks, along with defensive tackle Shelby Harris, quarterback Drew Lock and tight end Noah Fant.

Shockingly, Seattle has upgraded through five weeks. While Wilson has struggled mightily in Denver, Smith has shined under second-year offensive coordinator Shane Waldron.

After years of fans in the Pacific Northwest screaming to Let Russ Cook, it’s Smith who has showcased himself in a suddenly pass-happy scheme, with eight of his nine touchdowns passes traveling 10+ yards and five scores with air yards of at least 20 yards.

Of course, Smith has been terrific for only five games. Five games aren’t a season, and they certainly aren’t a career.

But Smith isn’t just enjoying stat-padding with short throws turned into huge gains by D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. He’s airing it out and finding both success and confidence, an enduring combination which has the potential to permanently transform.

And this season, no player has been more transformed than Geno Smith.

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