The rollercoaster first round of the NFL draft again lived up to its prime-time billing Thursday night, with twists (four quarterbacks going in the first 12 picks), turns (former top prospects Da’Quan Bowers and Nick Fairley free-falling) and some queasiness in Baltimore when the clock ran out on the Ravens around 10:45 p.m. But at the end of the thrill ride, the Ravens got their guy.
Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith, a top-15 talent in the eyes of many draft analysts, was the player they wanted all along, and after the early run on quarterbacks, he was there at pick No. 26.
But after a trade with the Bears, picking three spots later, fell through -- “My bad,” said Bears GM Jerry Angelo -- the Ravens didn’t get their pick in on time and the Chiefs raced to the podium to take Pittsburgh receiver Jonathan Baldwin. When the mess got sorted out, the Ravens selected Smith -- at pick No. 27. Plenty of confusion, cursing and anxiety, but no harm, no foul for the Ravens.
In Smith, a 6-foot-2 cornerback who ran a 4.42 forty-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine, the Ravens filled one of their biggest needs -- and it was a very specific one. The Baltimore secondary exceeded expectations in 2010, but it is stocked with undersized cornerbacks who struggled against tall, physical receivers such as Atlanta’s Roddy White and Houston’s Andre Johnson. The Ravens desperately needed an oversized cornerback that can bump, run and cover, and that was Smith’s forte at Colorado.
“Just the way he plays on tape attracted me,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh told reporters Thursday night after the Ravens selected Smith. “But, the size is a big plus [and] the speed is a big plus. 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.”
Smith is going to get compared to former Ravens Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister, and the physical similarities are obvious. But off the field, Smith is also reminiscent of McAlister, a known knucklehead who was a charter member of the John Harbaugh Doghouse Club back in Harbaugh’s first season here.
The reason Smith fell in the draft was that he has enough skeletons in his closet to give Maury Povich a week’s worth of material. According to reports, Smith has flunked drug tests, misused codeine, gotten arrested for an incident at a restaurant, knocked up multiple women and was charged twice for alcohol-related incidents. And on draft night, the fashion police arrested him for wearing a “Scarface” T-shirt.
The Ravens are right in thinking that Smith can help their team immediately, but he won’t be able to contribute if he’s stuck in a doghouse that is more difficult to escape than Harbaugh’s. That would be the one belonging to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who will surely be keeping tabs on Smith from afar.
If Smith means it when he says he has matured and steers clear of problematic situations, the Ravens could have a steal on their hands. And they are confident Smith’s shenanigans are a thing of the past.
“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, who visited Smith in Colorado. “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.”
Ah, yes, the Ravens locker room. Everyone talks about how the veterans will keep Smith in check, but is that myth or reality? Don’t get me wrong; from top to bottom, the Ravens organization is top-notch. But his teammates and Ravens personnel can’t watch over him 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Ray Lewis is a great mentor to the team’s young players, but the dude isn’t Terry Tate. He isn’t going to come out of nowhere at 2 a.m. to jack up a player who tries to drive his Escalade home drunk. He isn’t going to burst out of a hallway closet to knock a bong out of someone’s hand. He isn’t going to slide down a stripper pole at Scores and chew out a teammate who is attempting to make it rain like Pacman.
The Ravens can try all they want to surround Smith with a bulletproof support system -- and you can be sure they will -- but ultimately, it’s up to the player to decide if he wants to be a stud or a thug.
“They are done with and over with -- a long time ago,” Smith said of his past transgressions Thursday. “I’m looking, from here on out, to be the best player and person on and off the field that I can be.”
Let’s give the kid a clean slate and a chance to show he has learned from his mistakes. And let’s applaud GM Ozzie Newsome for letting another talented prospect fall into his lap -- even if it was one pick later than expected. But while you’re clapping for Ozzie and the gang, strap in and keep your fingers crossed.
The Ravens got their guy in a crazy first round, but the rollercoaster ride with Smith may just be starting.