A lot of Baltimore Ravens fans beat up cornerback Jimmy Smith virtually every week he takes the field, and I’m here to say some of the criticisms are warranted and some aren’t.
I understand why fans get up in arms about a guy who was a former first-round pick out of the University of Colorado and why they expect him to be a shutdown corner. Truth is, it’s hard to be one in this day and age of the NFL given all of the help the offensive side of the football receives.
Here are some things we know about Smith. One, he has the physical attributes at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds. He has displayed in the past that while he doesn’t have world-class speed, he has the ability to catch up to guys when he is beaten. Another thing is that Smith has contributed significantly for the Ravens during the postseason since his arrival in 2011 both defensively and on special teams. The 25-year-old has also been given tasks like covering opponents’ best wide receiver and has shut them down at times — just ask Buffalo Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson about his one catch, minus one yard performance against Smith.
While he does have these things going for him, it seems to be two issues that are always brought up with Smith and rightfully so. First, he gets beat on double moves quite often and at times leave big plays open on the outside. Since he is bigger, the Ravens will move cornerback Lardarius Webb inside when a third corner like Smith is required. This can be a good and bad thing at different times.
However, Smith’s biggest issue? His football instincts.
Instincts can’t be coached. You either have them or you don’t. In Sunday’s 26-23 victory over the Miami Dolphins, Smith was beat by Dolphins fullback and tight end Charles Clay for a back-shoulder fade route and a touchdown. It’s hard to really beat up Smith entirely for giving this up, but a cornerback should never get beat by a guy like Clay. A wide receiver? Sure.
As tough as that play is to stop, Smith could have stopped it if he simply did one thing: turned his head and located the football. Far too often, Smith finds himself watching receivers rather than flipping his head around and locating the football. Yes, this is easier said than done, but being able to locate the football at the proper time and place is what separates the good cornerbacks from the great ones. Smith has had this issue in his first three seasons and it seems as if this problem is going to continue. You can’t coach it. He just has to acknowledge the fact that the ball is likely being thrown his way. It’s what gets him into trouble with the officials for pass interference, and it’s why he gets beat for touchdowns.
Even the best corners in the league get beat from time to time. Look at Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. It happens, but Smith will never be able to fully take that next step if he doesn’t start improving his ball skills and field awareness. Pass deflections are great and all, but when the Ravens are struggling to find ways to move the ball consistently on offense as they have in 2013, a guy like Smith has to prove he has the skills to be a No. 1 corner soon.