Selecting Smith is gamble Ravens had to take

April 28, 2011|By Mike Preston

When a team believes it is only a player or two away from the Super Bowl, it will take a gamble with a high-priced free agent, or a star rookie with a troubled background.

The Ravens took a gamble Thursday night.

With the No. 27 pick in the first round of the NFL draft, the Ravens selected Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith. There is little doubt that Smith was one of the most talented players in the draft, but he has more baggage than an airline carrier at BWI.

His name has been linked with published reports of failed drug tests and other revelations about alcohol-related arrests and a third-degree assault in a restaurant.

Smith is no Boy Scout, but the NFL is not the YMCA.

And when a team is close to making the Super Bowl, it has a tendency to look the other way. The Ravens turned their heads Thursday night. They looked away, and then toward a possible Super Bowl.

""He fits our defense the way we need a corner to fit our defense," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. "He is very committed to being a great football player. We've done our homework and he has been very forth right from the beginning as far as putting it out there for the whole world to see.

"He is going to have to deal with that and we're going to have to deal with that."

Few know if Smith is the final piece of the puzzle to get the Ravens to the Super Bowl, but it is a risk the Ravens had to take. Basically, there were three top-ranked cornerbacks in the draft, and two went before the Ravens picked, with the Arizona Cardinals taking LSU's Patrick Peterson at No. 5, and the New York Giants selecting Nebraska's Prince Amukamara at No. 19.

There was no one left to fit the Ravens' need. Because they blitz so frequently, their cornerbacks are often exposed one on one. The Ravens have a lot of munchkin cornerbacks, but no one nearly as big and physical as Smith, who specializes in press coverage.

The Ravens needed Smith. It's a marriage which has a lot of potential.

In the past, the Ravens have talked about taking high-character players, but that's more posturing than actual philosophy. The Ravens have gambled on players with troubled pasts before such as running back Bam Morris and tight end Eric Green.

Those gambles didn't always involve free agents. Running back Jamal Lewis had a troubled past as well as defensive end Terrell Suggs and cornerback Chris McAlister. And then there was outside linebacker Sergio Kindle a year ago.

When you're close to a championship, it's OK to roll the dice. Unlike others, there isn't a belief here that the Ravens' veteran locker room will help turn Smith away from his troubles. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed couldn't help McAlister.

Lewis didn't change Morris, either.

The Ravens, though, have spent a lot of time interviewing Smith, from player personnel director Eric DeCosta to Harabugh to general manager Ozzie Newsome.

Smith's turnaround will have to come on his own, and the Ravens are willing to take that chance. With Smith, the Ravens have a cornerback who comes up strong in run support. Smith is smart and instinctive and reads and reacts quickly.

He does an excellent job of slowing a receiver and re-routing him to throw off his timing. He'll immediately challenge Domonique Foxworth, Lardarius Webb or Chris Carr for a starting job.

Smith seemed destined to fall to the Ravens when the Tennessee Titans picked University of Washington quarterback Jake Locker with the No. 8 pick, and the Jacksonville Jaguars made a trade with the Washington Redskins to select Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert at No. 10.

There was some confusion, as the Ravens eventually picked Smith at No. 27 instead of their scheduled No. 26 slot, but if he stays out of trouble, he could become a great player in Baltimore. He could be the difference maker for a team that needed another strong pass rusher, but improved its pass rush with a good, big, physical cornerback.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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