Daryl Smith may never get confused in Baltimore Ravens‘ lore with Ray Lewis. For this season, however, he has been a model of consistency for a team that has struggled to find some.
Smith signed with the Ravens for a paltry, by NFL standards, $1.125 million, a sum that included a small signing bonus. That’s all Baltimore is shelling out for the league’s sixth-leading tackler. The 10th-year man out of Georgia Tech isn’t just a hitting machine in the middle of the Baltimore D, as he also has two interceptions, a touchdown and eight passes deflected, tied for second amongst linebackers. In short, he has been a flat-out playmaker.
So in a league where scouting is ubiquitous and teams live and die by getting the upper hand on the competition, how did Smith become such a bargain for Baltimore, and become the man John Harbaugh has so quickly referred to as the “quarterback of the defense?”
For one, he was stuck in NFL purgatory, also known as the Jacksonville Jaguars, for his entire career, where he was a solid but unspectacular player for a downtrodden franchise. Smith never had more than four sacks in a season and twice broke the 100-tackle mark. He never had more than one interception in a season, scored one touchdown in nine years, and last sniffed the playoffs in 2007.
When a groin injury sidelined Smith for all but two of his games in 2012, Smith kissed his chances of signing a lucrative deal on his way out of Jacksonville goodbye. Only one other team, the St. Louis Rams, truly entertained the idea of bringing in the leading tackler in Jags’ history.
What was the rest of the league’s loss has been a huge gain for both Smith and the Ravens. Maybe it’ s the switch to a 3-4 defense, or maybe it’s the chance to play for a contender again that has re-invigorated his play, but Smith has enjoyed a career year. The Ravens desperately needed Smith to step up, as they said goodbye to playmakers on both sides of the ball in the offseason, and he has answered the call.
Unless he suffers a long-term injury during the remainder of the season, Smith has secured himself a lucrative deal (his contract with the Ravens is for only a year) next season, whether it is with Baltimore or one of the league’s other teams.
For now, he will continue to make plays for the Ravens’ D, as they return from the bye and try to get their season back on the right track. No matter how the rest of the Ravens’ season turns out, one thing is certain: Smith may not be able to dance like Ray, but he sure plays like him.