Smoker back on track

Mel Kiper Jr. takes draft-related questions on Jeff Smoker, Philip Rivers, Bradlee Van Pelt and more.

Originally Published: October 10, 2003
By Mel Kiper Jr. | Special to ESPN Insider
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Q: After watching Michigan State QB Jeff Smoker play extremely well the past few weeks, do you think he will be a high draft pick or will his off-the-field problems scare pro teams away? I think that he has all the tools to be a good QB in the NFL.
Andy, Detroit
KIPER -- It looks like Smoker has gotten back on track, and first-year Spartans coach John L. Smith has handled this situation perfectly. He gave Smoker a chance to put his his life back together after the substance-abuse problems that precipitated his suspension last year. After Smoker's suspension, the Spartans -- who started 2-0 and were ranked 15th -- went 2-8 (finishing the season at 4-8).

Smith made Smoker work hard to regain his starting job, and Smoker has benefited as a person and a football player. The 6-3, 224-pound QB has emerged as a legitimate Heisman candidate and NFL prospect. Smoker could be an intriguing second-day draft choice (in rounds 4-7).

Jeff Smoker
It appears that Jeff Smoker has put his problems behind him.
Smoker had a great game vs. Iowa (the Hawkeyes' only loss). He's completed 64.8 percent of his passes for 1,500-plus yards, 10 TDs and five interceptions. And he's done this without gifted WR Charles Rogers, who declared for last April's draft as a junior and was selected No. 2 overall by the Detroit Lions. Smoker has been assisted this year by all-purpose sophomore WR Agim Shabaj (team-high 31 catches) and RB Jaren Hayes, one of the nation's top sophomore backs and the team's second-leading receiver (26 catches). Smoker has been on target and he's spread the wealth to 12 different receivers overall.

Mel Kiper Jr.

Football analyst
Mel Kiper has served as an NFL draft analyst for ESPN since 1984. He is a regular contributor on SportsCenter and ESPN Radio and writes weekly for ESPN Insider.