When the Baltimore Ravens unloaded savvy veteran Anquan Boldin in the offseason, the question was whether Torrey Smith could graduate from deep threat to all-around receiver earning Joe Flacco's trust in key situations.
After five games, the answer is an emphatic "yes."
While the rest of the offense has mightily struggled, Smith is the only player in the league to record at least 85 receiving yards in every game this season.
"I think toward the last quarter of the season last year, last half of the season -- he's become a guy that you can throw the ball to, and you know he's going to come down with the ball," Flacco said this week, via ESPN.com. "You look at before that, he had the ability to make all kinds of plays, and he would make a lot of plays, but he'd put the ball on the ground here and there. Sometime last year, he became that guy that caught really everything you threw to him, and I think he's becoming more and more of that guy."
Facing "choke" coverage with a cornerback jamming at the line of scrimmage and safety help over the top, Smith ranks in the top three in the NFL in receiving yards (556), average yards per catch (20.6), receptions of 25 or more yards (seven) and yards after the catch (223).
When I compiled this week's wide receiver rankings, I had our video department create the highlight package at the right to illustrate Smith's growth as a true No. 1 receiver.
Smith and Mike Wallace began their careers in similar fashion, specializing in taking the top off defenses. Whereas Wallace's development has stalled as an incomplete route runner with inconsistent hands and trouble with physical coverage, Smith has shown steady progress -- as evidenced by a series of clutch catches against Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback Brent Grimes in Week 5.
Five games into the season, Smith has joined Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, Dez Bryant, A.J. Green, Brandon Marshall and Demaryius Thomas as the only receivers burning defenses deep, beating double coverage consistently in key situations and terrorizing would-be tacklers after the catch.