It was a big surprise when Daryl Smith, one of the most underrated linebackers in the NFL, spent the majority of the 2013 offseason sitting at home by the phone. When the Baltimore Ravens finally scooped him up off the streets, it was clear that they had gotten a big bargain.
A nine-year veteran who spent all of that time with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Smith has flown under the radar as one of the most consistent, efficient linebackers throughout the league. A groin injury, though, cost him most of his 2012 campaign and forced the Jaguars to let him walk this past offseason.
After the retirement of future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis this offseason, the Ravens needed a new linebacker who could fill the void in the middle. Arthur Brown was drafted in April as a potential replacement, but the presence of Smith appears to have pushed the rookie down the depth chart.
In the Ravens’ two preseason outings, Smith has been the best Baltimore defender on the field.
On top of notching 10 total tackles, Smith has managed a 5.5 overall rating according to Pro Football Focus. While excelling as a run defender, he has also made his mark in the pass rush department as well as in coverage. Whenever he was on the field, Smith played with tremendous instincts and was constantly around the football.
Smith has been playing so well, his coaches have taken notice.
“Daryl is that kind of player,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. “Nothing different than what he’s done all those years in Jacksonville. He played really well, becoming somewhat of a quarterback of the defense, because he calls the defense.”
Since entering the league, Smith has proven himself to be one of the most productive tacklers in the NFL – just look at his 1,096 career stops, the most ever by a Jaguars player. Despite his success, the 31-year-old is a team-first talent who simply wants to make the Ravens’ defense better. Baltimore took a gamble on Smith, and it’s already paying off.
No one will ever be able to fully replace Lewis, but Smith seems to be doing a solid job so far. The Ravens might have pulled the “best-case scenario” card this time around.