JUDGE: Will any team want Akili Smith?

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Clark Judge

Now that the Cincinnati have given up on , the question is: Who gives him a chance? I wish I could give you an answer. I can't. The feeling among AFC general managers and talent scouts is that whichever team signs the former first-round draft choice it will be as a third-string quarterback, with that club evaluating Smith between the 2003 and 2004 seasons. "It's too late for him to pick up anything," said one player personnel director. "If you find out about him it won't be until next off-season." It's not that Smith didn't play well last year; it's that, basically, he didn't play at all for a club that was a franchise-worst 2-14. That doesn't mean he didn't have his chances. He did. But he floundered so badly in his second year, throwing three touchdown passes in 11 starts and compiling a league-worst quarterback rating, that the buried him behind people such as Scott Mitchell, and . That tells you something. So does this: He started exactly two games and played in three the past two years. "He's not very good," said an AFC general manager. "He's just not very talented. I don't think he sees the big picture in terms of his field awareness. His confidence is destroyed, which is a big deal. And he's a run-around guy who's not very skilled. He gives you flashes but never anything to believe he can go somewhere." In his four years with Cincinnati, Smith completed 46.6 percent of his passes, with 5 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a 52.8 passer rating. He becomes the second first-round quarterback from that draft to hit the sidewalk, joining Cade McNown — released last month by San Francisco — in the dumpster. A bum shoulder may signal the end to McNown's career, but Smith will land somewhere — partly because there aren't enough experienced quarterbacks to go around and mostly because there will be someone to convince himself he can rehabilitate the poor guy. Hey, Tampa Bay and Dallas tried to make something of Ryan Leaf; somebody will try to make something of . Only there's a difference here, and it's not that Smith is an infinitely better person to talk to than Ryan Leaf. It's that was productive for one year ... and one year only ... and it wasn't at Cincinnati. It was at the University of Oregon. "Hey, Ryan Leaf played," said an AFC personnel director. "This guy only played one year. This isn't . played at Cal, and it wasn't until his senior season that things came together. wasn't playing." That's not exactly true. Smith started seven games his junior year, his first at Oregon, and threw 13 touchdown passes. But it was in his senior season that he stepped forward, setting school records for touchdown passes (32), passing yards (3,763) and total offense (3,947). He never repeated that success in the pros. "There's always somebody out there who's going to fix everybody, so he'll land with a team," said our GM. "But this is a guy who was hired to be a starter, worked his way to No. 2, then spent his last year as the third guy in Cincinnati. I don't know who's going to give him the chance. I know I don't want him as my third." I guess that tells you something, too. Senior writer covers the NFL for and can be reached at his e-mail address:
Tagged: Bengals, Vikings, Ravens, Jon Kitna, Akili Smith, Gus Frerotte, Kyle Boller

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