Why Smith is on the list
A consensus top-15 talent in the 2011 NFL Draft, Smith dropped to No. 27 overall due to character concerns. A prototypical physical, press-man corner out of Colorado, Smith drew comparisons to Nnamdi Asomugha, Aqib Talib and even Darrelle Revis.
"We've had elite shutdown corners in the past, and we just got the next one," defensive coordinator Dean Pees crowed. "The next great Raven cover corner."
Those plans were put on hiatus when a high-ankle sprain essentially wiped out his rookie season.
The injury issue popped up again last year when a mid-season sports hernia surgery sidelined Smith for six weeks and limited his snaps in the playoffs. Prior to the injury, Smith struggled at times in coverage but showed his trademark physicality as a rare cornerback willing and able to lay the wood on opposing ball carriers and receivers.
Having shed 10 pounds to hang with quicker receivers, Smith will battle Corey Graham for the starting right cornerback job this year. Although Smith's first two seasons have been a mild disappointment, coach John Harbaugh still is convinced he's "really special" and will be "a great player in this league.
Harbaugh summed up Smith's obstacles perfectly.
"Jimmy's biggest issue has been, I think two things," Harbaugh explained. "They never threw at him in college. They didn't even test him. He has been tested a lot more here, and that's helped him. And he's been injured quite a bit. Being healthy now is really going to help him."
That allusion to inexperience was evident last season. Smith's ball skills, judgment and positioning were rusty in his first extended trial as a starter following Lardarius Webb's anterior cruciate ligament tear. The video below shows a rare example of Smith making a play on the ball to prevent a catch. He failed to record a single interception and was flagged for nearly one pass interference or defensive holding penalty per game prior to the mid-season furlough.
Smith has the physical tools and the mindset to meet the Ravens' expectations, but he's yet to prove reliable as a starter, much less a shutdown cornerback. The coaching staff isn't going to play favorites in the battle with Graham, but they certainly hope Smith makes good on the first-round investment.
With coverage liability Cary Williams now with the Philadelphia Eagles, the Ravens' secondary actually could be better than last year's Super Bowl unit. For that to happen, Smith will have to emerge as the team's most reliable cornerback as Webb eases back in from knee surgery.
Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.