“He’s as athletically gifted as Asomugha. He’s got all the ability in the world. He also could be a supreme punk.” ~ NFC Personnel Director
The physical parallels to Nnamdi Asomugha were undeniable. Their height, speed, Scouting Combine results and intelligence all nearly mirror images. Could Jimmy Smith make the leap from the Colorado Buffaloes to the NFL and become a regular at the Pro Bowl the way Asomugha had?
Many had their doubts and it had nothing to do with Smith’s potential to create chaos for NFL quarterbacks. The doubts were rooted in his potential for off-the-field chaos.
In 2011 some believed that Smith possessed the most upside of any of the collegiate corners in that April’s NFL Draft yet he tumbled as predicted by many, to the bottom of Round 1 despite talent that screamed Top 15 pick.
Blame those hard to shake character red flags.
“Jimmy Smith is a carbon copy of Aqib Talib,” said an executive in 2011 who had dealings with both players. “This guy will be the same way.“
Smith was for the most part raised by his brother in a rough California town called Colton in San Bernardino County east of Los Angeles. The town’s streets are laced with gangs – murders are not uncommon.
Trouble was always close by and it’s understandable how outsiders could develop stereotypes for the residents of Colton. Some from Smith’s family couldn’t escape the town’s evil temptations and found themselves in and out of jail. The association chased away recruiters from USC and UCLA despite Smith’s impressive physical talents.
Jimmy, with his brother’s guidance, steered clear of the gangs yet he still found trouble. While at Colorado he flunked three drug tests including one for misusing codeine. Smith also had alcohol-related violations and was linked to a pair of abortions paid for by the parents of the women he impregnated.
There was also an arrest for assault.
Clearly there was reason for concern. On the surface the violations seemed extreme and hardly worthy of an investment of millions.
“I think Jimmy Smith will be a shutdown corner,” said Don Gregory, director of college scouting for the Carolina Panthers. “He’s got that Rod Woodson size. He’s a press guy. When he wants to play, I think he can be one of the best.”
There are those who often recite an overused cliché, “a leopard can’t change its spots.” That isn’t exactly true 100% of the time. It undermines the potential for character development. With the right guidance, mentoring and leadership, people can and do change.
Looking back upon Smith’s formidable years and given the crime-infected neighborhood in which he grew up, relatively speaking, are the things he did that heinous? Are they any different than some of the growing pains of teenagers from wealthy families?
We might quickly write off a rich kid’s transgressions as “kids will be kids” but if the same things happen to someone from the mean streets of Colton, CA who just so happens to have pro football talent, then he gets labeled a “punk”.
Maybe the accusers should have taken the time to try and walk a mile in Smith’s shoes to really get a feel for his life’s journey.
The Baltimore Ravens did, and now that he seems to be beyond the nagging injuries that derailed his first two seasons in the NFL, Smith is rewarding the team’s faith in him when they made him the 27th pick of the 2011 NFL Draft.
On the field Smith is now more physical in man assignments and effective in press coverage. Plus after some early season issues with technique he’s worked to correct the flaws and as of late Smith has been fundamentally sound, proven by results.
Over the course of the last 9 games only 20 passes thrown Smith’s way have been completed while opposing QB’s have struggled to the tune of a 68.5 passer rating. Comparatively speaking Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman when targeted this season have yielded 65.1 and 66.1 passer ratings respectively.
The talent has always been there. Everyone is now beginning to see what most expected from Smith as a player. What the naysayers haven’t seen are the off-the-field issues they expected – not a single peep.
When Smith was first introduced to the Baltimore media he was peppered with questions targeting his character. The well-spoken Californian handled the questions with patience, confidence and poise, qualities that have now become part of his game on the field.
And while he didn’t need an assist during that presser, draft classmate Torrey Smith stepped up and showed some leadership of his own.
“Going off of what he said, I’ve had the opportunity to know Jimmy myself, getting to know him over the process, and he’s a great guy. The way the media tries to portray him, I feel that’s not him. He’s a great guy, he’s down to earth, and like you said, these things are in the past, so I just feel like people should focus more on what he’s about to do from this day forward.”
We’ve seen this before with players who enter the Ravens locker room. Surrounded by solid role models, mentored by positional coaches with a knack for teaching and embraced by a great organization, players can and will improve if they are open to it. Smith, perhaps still influenced by the guiding hand of his brother, apparently was and is now another of the Ravens locker room success stories.
When asked about Smith, Assistant GM Eric DeCosta recently shared this with RSR:
“He’s an extreme professional who has worked very hard to be a top corner. His attitude and his maturity as a player have been huge bright spots this season. He’s become an asset to our defense as a player and as a leader.”
During that introductory presser back in April of 2011, Jimmy Smith while explaining that he wanted to move on from admittedly bad mistakes ended his discussion with this:
“I’m looking, from here on out, to be the best player and person on and off the field that I can be.”
If recent trends are any indication opposing quarterbacks will certainly proceed with caution on the field.
Off the field the Ravens are glad those executives who picked before them in the 2011 NFL Draft proceeded with caution in their respective war rooms while considering this potential “punk.”
In the end, maybe it’s those execs who were punked!