When Lardarius Webb went down to a torn ACL, the sky seemed to be falling in Baltimore. Cary Williams was struggling, Jimmy Smith was failing to live up to expectations and Corey Graham was not proving that he deserved to start over either of them.
Then, all of a sudden, Cary Williams stepped up in a big way, but the other side was still a problem.
When Jimmy Smith fell to injury, though, Corey Graham finally stepped up his game to a starting-caliber level. Graham is now playing at a level that should earn him a starting role going forward.
Despite facing significantly more targets than Jimmy Smith did, Graham has only given up four more receptions. More impressively, passes targeting Graham have a rating of just 67.6—better than anyone on the team except the injured Webb.
What makes Graham a better player than Smith is his technique and instincts. On a trick-play reverse pass, Graham maintained his assignment by covering Jonathan Dwyer.
Would Jimmy Smith have made the same play? Absolutely not.
Smith is overaggressive in the worst sense of the word. He regularly gets beat deep, and he usually compensates with physical play that ends up in a penalty. Smith's seven penalties are tied for second-worst on the team, and they've all been critical.
Even worse, Smith has whiffed on eight tackles this season. The only Raven with a worse record is Ed Reed, but Reed has played nearly double the snaps that Smith has.
Corey Graham, on the other hand, hasn't been penalized this year and has missed five tackles on around the same amount of snaps as Smith.
While Graham is an unspectacular player, he won't kill you with stupid penalties, missed tackles or missed coverages. Graham has earned a starting role, and Smith has earned a permanent seat on the bench.