Even though the first wave of free agency has passed for the Baltimore Ravens, they still have important matters to resolve—namely, taking care of their own. Keeping their own players in town has been a priority for the Ravens this offseason but naturally they had to let some familiar faces (like Arthur Jones and Corey Graham) leave.
Their next order of business is a pre-emptive strike to make sure that the same thing doesn’t happen to two of their homegrown young stars: Torrey Smith and Jimmy Smith.
Both were made Ravens in the 2011 NFL draft; Jimmy in the first round and Torrey in the second. Both have also endured their fair share of criticism. Torrey had a case of the “drops” in his first preseason, creating doubt about his long-term prospects.
Likewise, Jimmy came into the league as a physical specimen but struggled to develop the mental aspect of the cornerback position—looking like a rare first-round miss for Baltimore.
But both have grown over each and every offseason and 2013 was a coming out party for each Smith. They delivered when the Ravens really needed them and proved why general manager Ozzie Newsome needs to keep them in purple and black. It’s easy to get sucked into assessing the immediate future, but the Ravens would be in bad shape if they lost both Smiths over the next two offseasons.
Even though the current receiving corps looks like the best Joe Flacco has ever worked with, Steve Smith isn’t getting any younger and Torrey’s rookie contract is up at the end of the season. Wide receiver would once again become a gigantic concern for the Ravens if both left at the end of the year.
On the other side of the ball, Jimmy is developing into a highly coveted commodity as a long, physical cornerback that can contain the freakish receivers around the league. If he becomes an established star at the position, he could earn an enormous payday on the open market—and that would be a significant blow to the Baltimore defense.
Extensions were given to Terrell Suggs and Coach Harbaugh earlier in the offseason, but it's now time to lock up the future.
The Case for Torrey Smith
Let me preface by saying that there are definitely holes in his game. The notion of a No. 1 vs. No. 2 receiver is overblown in my opinion, but it is easy to see that Torrey Smith isn’t an elite receiver just yet. He’s not the type of go-to receiver that can carry an offense like Calvin Johnson or A.J. Green.
But he’s only 25 years old, has plenty of room to grow and is pretty darn good as he is. His ridiculous speed and body control make him a perfect complement to Joe Flacco’s cannon of a right arm, and that’s how he made his mark in previous years—as a deep threat.
In 2013, however, he showed that he is much more than “just” a burner. To start the year, he was a terror on quick slants and underneath crossing routes where he could use his speed to pick up yards after the catch.
That eventually disappeared from the offense—partially due to curious play-calling and partly because of defensive game-planning—but he showed that he’s a versatile pass-catcher.
As an interesting aside, note that Sammy Watkins—the unquestioned No. 1 receiver in the 2014 draft—compares himself to Torrey Smith:
Watkins is a superior athlete and tracks the ball better, but the comparison alone shows that Smith is far from just a one-trick pony. More importantly, you don’t need to worry about Torrey’s work ethic. He puts in the effort to get better and his track record of improving every summer helps make him an easy player to have faith in.
His game-to-game consistency needs to improve, but Smith is such a valuable part of the offense that the Ravens can’t afford to let him leave M&T Bank Stadium.
To his credit, he wants to stay in Baltimore, according to Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com:
This is where I want to be, everybody knows that, so I’m not really worried about that. I know I’m going to be here next season, so that’s the only thing I worry about. I’m trying to be the best I can be for the Ravens, and hopefully down the road that’s something that will be addressed and I’ll still be right here.
Now it’s just a matter of crunching the numbers and signing on the dotted line.
The Case for Jimmy Smith
The value of shutdown cornerbacks has already been established, and while he’s not at that level just yet, Jimmy Smith is well on his way to being a top 10 cornerback at the very least.
He was used to relying on his physical tools when he came into the league, but that didn’t fly in the pros. In his third year, however, he really turned a corner. Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com provides three different explanations for his development, from Smith himself, fellow cornerback Corey Graham and his head coach:
- Jimmy Smith: “I feel comfortable. It’s my third year. I’m playing loose, you know? It’s just natural progression. It's always a work in progress to become one of the top, elite cornerbacks in the game."
- Corey Graham: “He’s just improved his knowledge for the game. He studies a lot more, he recognizes football a lot better. Maybe it means more to him, I don’t know.”
- John Harbaugh: “He’s just improved at the line of scrimmage. He’s always believed in that. He’s always embraced it. But, he’s gotten better at it.”
Whatever the reason, Smith was one of the better corners in the league as the year went on, and it showed in the numbers of his competition:
|Jimmy Smith's Shutdown Performance vs. The Best|
|Wide Receiver||Thrown At||Receptions||Yards||TDs||INTs|
Ozzie Newsome has done a terrific job of knowing when to abandon sentiment and walk away from his players, but his next task is ponying up to these rising stars. The Smiths came to Baltimore together and hopefully they’ll get the chance to remain together.
Shehan Peiris is B/R's Lead Featured Columnist covering the Baltimore Ravens and a co-host of Ravens Central Radio, a weekly podcast on the Pro Football Central radio network that focuses on all things Ravens-related. For the latest Ravens news, draft analysis and links to episodes of Ravens Central Radio, follow me on Twitter.