Draft picks have been linked together throughout the history of the NFL, the 16-year existence of the Baltimore Ravens being no exception.
Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis in 1996, two future Hall of Famers selected with the first two picks in franchise history.
A year later, Peter Boulware and Jamie Sharper were chosen in the first two rounds, completing a linebacker trio that led one of the greatest defenses in league history to the Ravens’ only Super Bowl a few years later.
More recently, Joe Flacco and Ray Rice came off the board as the 18th and 55th overall picks in 2008, signifying a transition from a decade of defensive domination to a heightened attempt to create more balance on the offensive side of the football.
But no other pair of draft picks in franchise history has perhaps produced as unique a dichotomy in some ways but common threads in others as cornerback Jimmy Smith and wide receiver Torrey Smith in the first two rounds this weekend.
As the two top draft picks were introduced to the local media in Owings Mills on Saturday, the two sat between general manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh, the juxtaposition of their backgrounds, character, and immense talents on full display.
Having the same surname and both born “James Smith,” as Torrey shrewdly pointed out to earn laughs from those in attendance at the Ravens training facility, some similarities exist regardless of the well-documented doubts surrounding Jimmy Smith’s past transgressions and Torrey Smith’s impeccable character in spite of a difficult upbringing.
Both fulfill major needs as Jimmy Smith’s 6-foot-2 frame brings the size and physical nature needed in an undersized secondary while the speedy Torrey Smith adds a home-run threat to complement possession receivers Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason. The two share the same agent, both represented by the high-profile, brash Drew Rosenhaus.
Jimmy Smith grew up in gang-infested Colton, Calif., trying to stay away from trouble and revealing he recently had a friend murdered there. Torrey Smith’s difficult upbringing came to light in a moving piece written by Eric Prisbell of The Washington Post. Spend 20 minutes reading it and then explain how the former Terps receiver doesn’t become an instant favorite in Baltimore in the same way Micheal Oher’s story captivated the hearts of Ravens fans.
Of course, the comparisons might very well end there. Jimmy Smith was unable to avoid trouble related to drugs, alcohol, and women, according to multiple reports. His talent as a potential shutdown corner is undeniable, but he will continue to be an off-field concern until he proves otherwise, though he will benefit from the support of one of the finest organizations in the NFL. The rookie cornerback has already spoken to veteran leader Ray Lewis as fans and pundits have already discussed the roles of Lewis and safety Ed Reed in keeping the former Colorado Buffalo on the straight and narrow.
However, Lewis and Reed are not babysitters; Jimmy Smith will need to be an adult, plain and simple, and no one else can ultimately force him to do it but himself. He once again answered questions regarding his past Saturday morning, wanting fans to know he’s moved on from those behaviors.
“I want people to know that I don’t have any character issues,” he said. “I made bad decisions when I was a young kid, just like most Americans. I don’t want them to think that I’m going to come in here and try to make this organization look bad. These two gentlemen (Harbaugh and Newsome) are putting their necks on the line for me, so I’m pretty sure I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure they look good at all times, as well as me, myself and my whole family.”
Those same concerns aren’t present with his teammate who sat to his right. Though Torrey Smith might find difficulty adjusting to the NFL and taking the tops off defenses initially in his rookie season, he will have no problem staying trouble-free and representing the Ravens and the city of Baltimore with integrity and class if the first 22 years of his life are any indication.
While anyone with a vested interest in Jimmy Smith points to the need for a support system to keep the physical cornerback in line, Torrey Smith once again displayed what he’s done his entire life by helping take care of his six younger siblings and his best friend and mother Monica Jenkins.
As early as age four, Torrey Smith has been the support system for others instead of needing help for himself.
After taking care of others his entire life, why not come to the defense of his new teammate?
“I’ve had an opportunity to know Jimmy myself,” said Torrey, unprovoked before willingly interjecting his defense for the first-round pick. “He’s a great guy. The way the media tries to portray him, I feel like that’s not him. He’s a great guy, he’s down to earth. Like he said, his things are in the past, so I feel like people should focus more so on what he’s going to do from this day forward.”
For anyone who followed his terrific career at the University of Maryland, it was an impressive act, but hardly surprising. On a day in which most would be consumed in the glory of beginning an NFL career, Torrey Smith was once again thinking about someone else, with his family sitting in the front row to share in the celebration.
While Jimmy Smith enjoys the first-round status — along with the bigger contract that will eventually accompany it — but faces the question marks, the other Smith allowed his character to shine through as well as a love for his new professional family as his real family sat in the front row in his introductory press conference.
“He’s seen a lot and he’s been through a lot,” said Jenkins, who had been telling her son for weeks he was going to be selected by the Ravens. “And for him to be as strong as he is, he’s definitely God-sent. He deserves everything that comes to him, because he’s been there [for his family].”
As the two newest members of the Baltimore Ravens bring excitement for the future on both sides of the football, the Smiths will inevitably be linked together as their career paths begin in Baltimore. Each is immensely talented, with Jimmy Smith trying to become the Ravens’ first elite cornerback since Chris McAlister — hopefully without the accompanying baggage — and Torrey Smith hoping to stretch the field for Flacco in the passing attack.
Time will only tell how successful they’ll be. There’s no such thing as a sure thing.
But the show of support from one Smith to another was an impressive moment, one the first-round pick will hopefully remember as another example of how much faith the organization has placed in him.
For Torrey Smith, it’s just the latest reason why so many are rooting for the former Maryland standout to succeed on the field as much as he already has in life.
Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from Jimmy Smith, Torrey Smith, John Harbaugh, Ozzie Newsome, and Torrey Smith’s mother Monica Jenkins as well as the rest of the Ravens’ draft picks.