Malcolm Smith was a very unlikely candidate to receive Super Bowl MVP honors after being taken in the seventh round of the 2011 NFL draft. However, the three-year veteran made his presence known on a stout Seattle defense by filling in at the outside linebacker position throughout the course of the 2013-14 regular season.
Smith was originally seen as a special teams player but quickly earned time in the starting lineup due to his speed and agility.
Linebacker Bruce Irvin was suspended for the first four games of the regular season due to violating the league's performance-enhancing substance policy. Smith filled in and played admirably in his absence.
Soon after, the Seahawks lost middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, causing K.J Wright to slide into his position. That left Smith to start in Wright's place. During that span, Smith recorded his season-high tackles total against the Arizona Cardinals with nine.
Later in the season, Wright broke a bone in his right foot and was forced to miss time. He did not return to the lineup until the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers. Again, Smith filled in. This time, he began a hot streak that he would not relinquish.
Over the final two games of the season, Smith recorded two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown against the St. Louis Rams in Week 17. Perhaps, the writing was already on the wall.
During the divisional round of the playoffs against the New Orleans Saints, Smith was everywhere on the field, recording nine tackles. One game later, he recorded yet another interception against the 49ers.
At this point, it was clear why head coach Pete Carroll continued to play the linebacker: Smith's vision and speed allowed him to constantly find himself in the right place at the right time.
Then, Smith and the Seahawks journeyed to New Jersey for Super Bowl XLVIII.
In the second quarter of the game, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was hit as he attempted to throw a pass to running back Knowshon Moreno. Smith was back in coverage as the ball fluttered through the air. Reacting quickly, Smith jumped in front of Moreno, snatched the ball from the air and returned it 69 yards for a touchdown.
This was the play of the game:
Aside from his interception, Smith also recorded 10 total tackles and a fumble recovery on his way to MVP honors.
After looking over his emergence during the regular season and his continued dominance throughout the playoffs, one thing becomes apparent: Smith's play this past season was no fluke.
Playing on the league's top-ranked defense featuring players like Wagner, Richard Sherman, Cliff Avril and Kam Chancellor makes it tough to be recognized—especially for a seventh-round draft pick. However, Smith was able to do just that.
After becoming only the third linebacker in Super Bowl history to be named MVP, Smith remained humble and elected to praise his teammates, according to an interview with Jim Corbett of USA Today:
It's unbelievable. I'm in shock. We expected a great fight from them. We kind of just dominated the game. To be in the Super Bowl and dominate the game says a lot about our group. We spend a lot of time together.
We kind of have a chip on our shoulder, a lot of guys got overlooked, a bunch of misfits, a bunch of guys who it was said wouldn't be anything. Obviously, Peyton is a great quarterback who gets the ball out fast. But we play with a speed they haven't seen before.
Smith was then asked how he would handle the added attention. He said, "I'll definitely be able to handle the attention, not much will change. I've been to Disneyland. But I've never been to Disney World. It'll be fun."
The way he played during the season and through the Super Bowl has certainly warranted an immense amount of attention for Smith. Expect his stellar play to continue into the 2014 season and beyond. We could easily speculate that Smith has only just begun to show his capability as an elite NFL linebacker.
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