Friday, April 15, 2011

Smith or Smith?

One could be a Raven

There are few if any teams in the NFL that aren’t flawed. That doesn’t mean less than perfect rosters can’t be successful in the league, it just means that it is incumbent upon all teams to exploit their opponent’s flaws more efficiently than their own are exploited. You only need to look to Super Bowl XLV for proof.

During that game, the Green Bay Packers were far more skillful with their proverbial scalpel while surgically dissecting the soft white underbelly of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense. Aaron Rodgers used spread formations and quick decision making to neutralize Dick LeBeau’s formidable pass rush while shredding his suspect secondary.

In the end the Lombardi Trophy went home to Titletown.

The Baltimore Ravens have flaws – arguably several of them and they will look to the 2011 NFL Draft to try and do a little damage control. The team is less than ideal at the positions of offensive tackle, defensive end, wide receiver, cornerback and linebacker. Their well dispersed array of needs matches up neatly with their draft day strategy of Best Player Available (“BPA”).

Now this particular draft is said to be deep but not exactly rich with blue chip players and that might explain why so many mock drafts vary even at the top of the board with the No. 1 overall pick. The Ravens at No. 26 will have the luxury of not being forced to spend more for a player higher up on the board who might not be as good as the one available to them at 26. The more mistakes made in front of them and the more quarterbacks or even defensive tackles selected before them increases the relative value of the Ravens’ draft position.

With their pick, many have the Ravens selecting Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith. Smith however is decorated with red flags as a result of character issues and it’s possible that the Ravens have taken Smith off their board altogether as a result.

That said, one source has shared with us that character concerns at the cornerback position are commonplace. Look around the league and you would be hard-pressed to find young corners making an impact in the NFL who didn’t arrive with some baggage. For every clean and accomplished kid like the Patriots’ Devin McCourty there’s a handful of Johnathan Josephs, Pacman Joneses, Antonio Cromarties and Aqib Talibs. It just may be that flawed character is part of the DNA of a skillful corner.

Clearly the Ravens best corner ever had character issues. If you were Ozzie Newsome and you were given a do-over with Chris McAlister, would you take him again? Most would say yes, right?

But back to Jimmy Smith, if you listen to the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock and Charlie Casserly, they would pass on Smith in the first round because it is their learned position that his skill set at the bottom of round 1 while alluring, is too risky and teams should avoid the temptation to put in their draft card with Smith’s name on it.

It is foolish to completely dismiss the opinions of these two fine analysts, yet keep in mind that the information that the Mayocks, Casserlys and Kipers have access to on Smith and all players for that matter, pales in comparison to the inside skinny each of the teams possess. If the Ravens do make this Colorado Buffalo the next Raven, it won’t be because they’ve ignored the red flags but rather, they are comfortable enough with them that when matched up against his skills, still makes him the BPA.

Another Smith that is often tied to the Ravens is Maryland Terrapin Torrey Smith. From what we’ve learned the Ravens like the speedy wide receiver and they believe his measurables are highly desirable and his hands are superior to those of former Terp and NFL bust-to-date Darius Heyward-Bey.

And while Smith is doing his best to detach from DHB, the current Raiders’ reputation might push the Terrapins first round hopeful into the second round. The bet here is that the Ravens won’t touch Torrey Smith in round 1 and they’ll wait to see if he’s available when Ozzie Newsome & Co. are on the clock again in round 2. The Ravens like the kid’s upside and he brings very strong intangibles and character.

As we’ve seen in the past with wide receiver misses like Travis Taylor, Mark Clayton and Patrick Johnson, the Ravens have struggled identifying top end pass catchers in the draft. The Ravens aren’t alone in that department.

The position of wide receiver remains one of the more difficult ones to project and develop in the NFL and that problem could be exacerbated if the league’s labor issues continue. The lost time removes the opportunity for ample classroom/playbook study and developing a rapport with the quarterback. The end result is a player who is less instinctive, thinks too much, plays slower and ultimately fails to get open.