The rollercoaster first round of the
again lived up to its prime-time billing Thursday night, with twists (four quarterbacks going in the first 12 picks), turns (former top prospects Da’Quan Bowers and
free-falling) and some queasiness in Baltimore when the clock ran out on the
around 10:45 p.m. But at the end of the thrill ride, the Ravens got their guy.
, a top-15 talent in the eyes of many draft analysts, was the player they wanted all along, and after the early run on quarterbacks, he was there at pick No. 26.
But after a trade with the
, picking three spots later, fell through -- “My bad,”
-- the Ravens didn’t get their pick in on time and the
raced to the podium to take Pittsburgh receiver
. When the mess got sorted out, the Ravens selected Smith -- at pick No. 27. Plenty of confusion, cursing and anxiety, but no harm, no foul for the Ravens.
In Smith, a 6-foot-2 cornerback who ran a 4.42 forty-yard dash at the
scouting combine, the Ravens filled one of their biggest needs -- and it was a very specific one. The Baltimore secondary exceeded expectations in 2010, but it is stocked with undersized cornerbacks who struggled against tall, physical receivers such as Atlanta’s
. The Ravens desperately needed an oversized cornerback that can bump, run and cover, and that was Smith’s forte at Colorado.
“Just the way he plays on tape attracted me,” Ravens coach
told reporters Thursday night after the Ravens selected Smith. “But, the size is a big plus [and] the speed is a big plus. He doesn’t move like a 6-2 man; he’s rare that way. He’s got special talents, and he plays real hard. He’s a good tackler. He’s very physical. He plays the ball well downfield. Those are all things you look for in a corner.”
Smith is going to get compared to former Ravens
, and the physical similarities are obvious. But off the field, Smith is also reminiscent of McAlister, a known knucklehead who was a charter member of the John Harbaugh Doghouse Club back in Harbaugh’s first season here.
The reason Smith fell in the draft was that he has enough skeletons in his closet to give Maury Povich a week’s worth of material.
, Smith has flunked drug tests, misused codeine, gotten arrested for an incident at a restaurant, knocked up multiple women and was charged twice for alcohol-related incidents. And on draft night, the fashion police arrested him for wearing a “Scarface” T-shirt.
The Ravens are right in thinking that Smith can help their team immediately, but he won’t be able to contribute if he’s stuck in a doghouse that is more difficult to escape than Harbaugh’s. That would be the one belonging to NFL commissioner
, who will surely be keeping tabs on Smith from afar.
If Smith means it
and steers clear of problematic situations, the Ravens could have a steal on their hands. And
“At the end of the day, we just had a comfort level with the kid, both as a person and as a player,” said Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta, who visited Smith in Colorado. “We think we’ve got a great locker room, and we think he’s going to be a guy that comes in and flourishes in our system.”
Ah, yes, the Ravens locker room. Everyone talks about how the veterans will keep Smith in check, but is that myth or reality? Don’t get me wrong; from top to bottom, the Ravens organization is top-notch. But his teammates and Ravens personnel can’t watch over him 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
is a great mentor to the team’s young players, but
. He isn’t going to come out of nowhere at 2 a.m. to jack up a player who tries to drive his Escalade home drunk. He isn’t going to burst out of a hallway closet to knock a bong out of someone’s hand. He isn’t going to slide down a stripper pole at Scores and chew out a teammate who is attempting
The Ravens can try all they want to surround Smith with a bulletproof support system -- and you can be sure they will -- but ultimately, it’s up to the player to decide if he wants to be a stud or a thug.
“They are done with and over with -- a long time ago,” Smith said of his past transgressions Thursday. “I’m looking, from here on out, to be the best player and person on and off the field that I can be.”
Let’s give the kid a clean slate and a chance to show he has learned from his mistakes. And let’s applaud GM
for letting another talented prospect fall into his lap -- even if it was one pick later than expected. But while you’re clapping for Ozzie and the gang, strap in and keep your fingers crossed.