By Samuel Njoku
Jimmy Smith, CB, #22
Hometown: San Diego, CA
Experience: 2nd year
The Ravens have always been a strong defense, but if there was a weak point to be found, it would be with their secondary. On January of 2011, the Ravens suffered a meltdown that cost them a trip to the AFC Championship game. They would lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-24 after possessing a 21-7 lead after the half. This occurred partially because of the lack of depth at corner. The Ravens approached the 2011 Draft with one goal in mind: They needed to draft a cornerback to compliment Lardarius Webb. Jimmy Smith would hear is name called late in the first round, but the road to that achievement was far from easy.
Jimmy Smith’s past is similar to a lot of pro athletes in his generation. He grew up in a rough neighborhood surrounded by gangs and drug dealers. The environment in which he grew up in makes it almost impossible for young men to such as Smith to succeed. But that is exactly what he did. His ability to play football kept him focused and out of trouble, so it came as no surprise when the young football player was recruited to Colorado for collegiate football.
In Colorado, Jimmy Smith made a name for himself fairly quickly. Both as a corner and contributor on special teams, Smith had a knack for making big plays in key situations. And as the number of big plays increased, so did his accolades. He would finish his collegiate career with First-Team All-Big 12 honors by his coaches as well as Second-Team All-Big 12 honors by the Associated Press. Smith would finish with 183 tackles and three interceptions.
The NFL liked what they saw on the field. He was as strong as they come at cornerback. And though the “shut-down corner” is an endangered species, Smith was probably as close as you get at the collegiate level. In man coverage, Smith allowed just 11 completions in his junior and senior year combined. Teams were enamored with the young prospect. Some predicted he would be the first corner selected in the draft. However, Smith would soon find out that the larger the spotlight, the larger the microscope.
Teams began to question his character and whether he could handle the glitz and glamour of the NFL. His history with the law and 3 failed drug tests often went hand in hand with his stats. Rumors of abortions began to surface quickly and instantly painted a poor image of the NFL prospect. Instead of the shutdown corner from Colorado University, Smith became the young kid from Calton. And so the past, the one thing that Smith fought his whole life to run away from, almost took away his chance at playing in the NFL.
But the Baltimore Ravens saw a different Smith. The Ravens looked past the reports and rumors and saw something special. They saw a kid with a gift who made some mistakes. Not a bad person.
“At the end of the day, we just had a comfort level with the kid, both as a person and as a player,” said Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta. “We think we’ve got a great locker room, and we think he’s going to be a guy that comes in and flourishes in our system.”
Harbaugh was more concerned with what he saw on the field, and less concerned with what he saw off the field.
“The way he plays on tape attracted me,” said Coach Harbaugh. “He doesn’t move like a 6-2 man; he’s rare that way. He’s got special talents, and he plays real hard. He’s a good tackler. He’s very physical. He plays the ball well downfield. Those are all things you look for in a corner.”
The Ravens took a chance on Smith, and it was a chance that he wasn’t going to let slip away. When asked about his past after the draft, Smith didn’t hesitate to answer.
“They are done with and over with — a long time ago. I’m looking, from here on out, to be the best player and person on and off the field that I can be.”
And that’s exactly what Smith has done. Since the draft, nobody has even mentioned Jimmy Smith’s name. The player has been quiet. He has been the model NFL citizen. At least for now, it appears the pundits that painted the young corner as a thug were wrong. And with the injury to Webb, the young corner has a chance to make teams regret passing him by in the draft.
“I’ve been working hard,” Smith told reporters. “I took this offseason to really hone in on my skills and technique. I feel like just being a confident player, I’m ready.
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Samuel Njoku was born and raised in Baltimore, MD and is a graduate of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Samuel has covered the Ravens for Examiner.com since 2010. Prior to 2010, Samuel was an avid blogger and radio personality in Salisbury, MD. He can be reached for comments at SamuelN870@gmail.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @Ravens_Examiner.