After tragically losing his younger brother Tevin in a motorcycle accident last Saturday, Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith faced the unenviable prospect of playing two football games over the course of five days.
No one would have faulted the second-year speedster had he chosen to forgo his team's matchups against the New England Patriots or Cleveland Browns, but Smith made it clear almost immediately that he would stay in the Baltimore lineup.
Admirable alone to simply put on a uniform and go through the motions, Smith did something seemingly unimaginable: He flourished. The 23-year-old made 12 catches for 224 yards and three touchdowns, putting together the best two-game stretch of his young career as the public watched in awe.
Thousands upon thousands of (deserved) words of praise have been and will be heaped on Smith in the coming days. And if his story was simply a nice, two-game run of amazing performances before the Ravens' youngster reverts to inconsistency, then that's perfectly fine as a short-term human interest piece.
Luckily for the Ravens and Smith's fantasy owners, this two-game surge is anything but a fluke.
Smith came into 2012 as a preseason breakout candidate after showing flashes of brilliance, including two games of 150 or more yards receiving, during his rookie campaign a year ago.
Cautiously hyped, Smith was on average taken as the 29th wide receiver off the board and had an average draft position of 88.8, according to ESPN's live draft results.
Through the first two weeks of the season, that cautious optimism turned starkly into pessimism as Joe Flacco connected with Smith just four times for 108 yards. What's more, he was targeted a paltry eight times in those games.
Where it was once thought that Smith's presence would open up the Ravens' offense, it seemed that Baltimore was far more comfortable turning tight end Dennis Pitta into a star.
With 24 targets over the first two weeks, Pitta not only was Baltimore's highest-targeted player, he dwarfed the competition.
That all changed last Sunday night against the Patriots, and considering the Ravens' success, should stay that way going forward.
After failing to reach the 300-yard mark in either of the first two weeks, Flacco threw for 738 yards combined against the Patriots and Browns while re-opening the conversation about his elite status.
Smith is the explosive target who made that happen. He has the ability to outrun and outmaneuver even the best cornerbacks in the NFL. To limit him to a "only when necessary" threat is not only a disservice to Smith, but will hurt Baltimore's chances in the long-run.
If the Ravens can continue getting great play out of their two best playmakers, running back Ray Rice and Smith, there is no reason this team won't run away with the AFC North.
Sure, there will likely be times where Smith reverts to the two-catch, 50-yard performances we saw early on. However, that happens with just about every receiver.
The last two weeks show the true potential of the Ravens' offense and should lead to a massive breakout season for Smith.
Get the inspiring Baltimore star in your lineup and feel free to keep him there for the rest of the season.
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