Coming out of college in 2011 he had all the coveted measurables of a shutdown corner – measurables that were often compared to those of Nnamdi Asomugha.
In a league that has quickly morphed into a predominantly passing league the value at the position is at an all-time high.
Who wouldn’t want a Nnamdi Asomugha?
The comparisons while dangerous in that they could set an unrealistic level of expectation were hard to ignore given nearly identical height, weight, speed, intelligence and other Combine scores.
Yet there was one major difference – character.
During his early college years Smith flunked three drug tests, had two possession charges and an aggravated assault. Parents of two girls he impregnated paid for abortions.
Red flags waved like an over-caffeinated lifeguard in Ocean City.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 24 NFL personnel people were asked whether they would draft Smith in the first two rounds. Only 13 said they would, quite alarming for a player pegged as the next Asomugha.
The naysayers expected instead the next Aqib Talib.
The Ravens say they did their homework and they were comfortable with Smith’s character following Combine interviews. Ozzie Newsome and his capable staff claimed the issues that hung over the former Colorado Buffalo like a dark cloud happened early during Smith’s collegiate career. He was then an impressionable teenager emerging from a very bad section of East Los Angeles where friends and family members struggled to stay out of jail.
Through two plus seasons in Baltimore, Smith’s projected off-the-field turbulence has been about as distracting as flat seas during a boat outing on the Chesapeake.
And he has lived up to the promise he made when first introduced to the Baltimore media.
“I want people to know that I don’t have any character issues,” Smith said. “I made bad decisions when I was a young kid, just like most Americans. I don’t want them to think that I’m going to come in here and try to make this organization look bad. These two gentlemen [Head Coach John Harbaugh and General Manager Ozzie Newsome] are putting their necks on the line for me, so I’m pretty sure I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure they look good at all times, as well as me, myself and my whole family.”
Sitting beside Smith during that introductory presser was Torrey Smith, who came to the defense of Jimmy.
“He’s a great guy, he’s down to earth. Like he said, his things are in the past so I feel like people should focus more so on what he’s going to do from this day forward.”
Jimmy Smith has shown flashes of brilliance during his first two seasons in Baltimore, yet he’s been inconsistent as well and he falls prey far too often to double moves. That issue continues to surface during OTA’s.
In his defense, Smith hasn’t gained enough experience at the professional level. He’s missed too much time on the practice field due to nagging injuries during his first two seasons, playing in just 23 of a possible 32 regular season games with only 5 starts.
Clearly that’s not the kind of productivity the Baltimore Ravens are accustomed to when it comes to first round picks, particularly on defense.
This offseason Smith’s training regimen that included boxing, has him sporting a lighter frame (10 pounds) with lean muscle mass. His commitment to the game and to conditioning appears more determined than ever.
And his coaches have taken notice, particularly secondary coach Teryl Austin.
[Jimmy] has taken major steps towards being the player that we wanted him to be. Jimmy’s biggest issue has been, I think two things: They never threw at him in college. They didn’t even test him. He has been tested a lot more here, and that’s helped him. And, he’s been injured quite a bit. Being healthy now is really going to help him.
“And he’s really gotten himself into pretty good shape. [He’s] really studying, doing a lot of things that [he] maybe would have taken for granted the first two years. He’s really stepped that up, and it’s really shown in how he’s played and how he’s progressed this offseason.”
The starting corner opposite Lardarius Webb is Smith’s to earn. It’s right there and if the team has its druthers Smith will earn that spot. They’d rather save Corey Graham for nickel packages and for special teams where he makes a big difference in the return game.
Those red flags leading into the 2011 NFL Draft appear to be distant images in the rearview mirror of Smith’s young career. So far from a character perspective, he’s rewarded the Ravens confidence in him and he’s silenced those who didn’t believe in him as a person.
Today Smith aims to deliver on the field, where no one doubted him back in 2011.
The time is now…
References: BaltimoreRavens.com, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel