Clifton Smith: The Story Behind the Man They Call "Peanut"

Jordan HeckContributor IIIJuly 8, 2009

TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 30: Running back Clifton Smith #22 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sets for a kick return against the New Orleans Saints at Raymond James Stadium on November 30, 2008 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Clifton Smith, also known as "Peanut" and "Batman," has gone through some of the most imaginable things to get to where he is right now.

Let's start this story in college at Fresno State where he grew up. His career at Fresno State was bothered with injuries. During his junior year in 2005, Smith suffered a season-ending knee injury against Oregon. Even though he suffered a major knee injury, he still played prior to getting injured and even set an NCAA record returning two out of three punts for touchdowns against Weber State.

Smith's knee injury haunted him into his senior year at Fresno State and he went undrafted in the NFL due to his lack of statistics from injury plagued seasons. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers decided to take a chance and sign Clifton Smith as an undrafted rookie free agent.

The chances for Smith to make the team in '08 were slim. The Buccaneers already had runningbacks Earnest Graham, Warrick Dunn, Michael Bennett, and fullbacks B.J. Askew and Byron Storer, not to mention Cadillac Williams, who was rehabbing from injury and expected to come back in the mix later in the season.

While Smith was known for his return abilities in college, the Buccaneers drafted return specialist Dexter Jackson in the second round that year, so Smith's return abilities were not needed.

Smith demonstrated his skills to good use in preseason but was not able to make the 53-man roster. His only chance to make the Buccaneers roster now was for somebody on the team to get injured, or not live up to expectations.

The Buccaneers' second draft pick, Jackson, was not performing up to the hype, so he was inactive for the rest of the season. In to fill his place was Smith. Smith started as return man in week eight at Dallas. His first return was a punt for 20 yards before every returner's worst nightmare happened: He was tackled by the punter. But besides the punter making the tackle, the return was impressive because Smith made a few quick moves and broke some tackles, which was ten times better than anything Jackson showed through seven games.

The week after the Dallas game, the Buccaneers were losing to Kansas City 24-3 before Smith provided a spark. Smith returned the longest kickoff in Buccaneers history for a touchdown (97 yards). A few weeks later against Detroit, Smith returned a punt to the house, and he was becoming a fan favorite in Tampa.

Smith finished the season in the top five in the NFL for kick return average (with at least 10 attempts) and also finished second in the NFL for punt return average (at least 20 attempts). Smith's numbers were so good that he was elected to the Pro Bowl in Honolulu. Smith finished the game with the most all-purpose yards in the Pro Bowl and had an amazing 55-yard return in the fourth quarter when players were playing their hardest to get the prize money.

So that is the story of return-man Clifton Smith, who was playing with "a Dorito on his shoulder" last season. He went from not being able to play again in college, to taking over the job of a second round draft pick, to getting the most all-purpose yards in the Pro Bowl.

Here is to another great season for Smith.