Everyone has an opinion on Jimmy Smith.
And most of it has nothing to do with his ability to play football.
When you bring a checkered past with you on the flight to Baltimore, there’s legitimate cause for concern, particularly when the Ravens are coming off a season that saw their first pick miss the season due to a freak off-field accident. Most will remember that Sergio Kindle, like Smith, had a variety of missteps througout college before Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta selected him last April. That made the selection questionable at best, particularly for those who said “too much baggage” when claiming Kindle wouldn’t pan out as a pro player.
Now along comes Jimmy Smith, he of the three failed drug tests, multiple arrests and other personal issues that certainly led to a great number of NFL teams saying “thanks, but no thanks” on Thursday night.
He’s destined to fail too, right?
But maybe not.
I’ll get this out of the way, as it speaks volumes to everyone reading this and, frankly, to me as well, since I opine about things like the NFL draft for a living.
There’s no fan or media member anywhere in Baltimore – and this includes YOU – who knows more about the players who were available in this year’s draft than Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta and Joe Hortiz. You might be a college football fan, you might subscribe to 10 different college scouting websites and you might fancy yourself a real talent evaluator, but the cold-water-in-the-face truth about it all is you know very little, really. None of us – you, me, and everyone else in Baltimore – have ever had a meal with Jimmy Smith. We haven’t looked him in the eye and asked him about his past. The ONLY evaluation we can all make on him is what we’ve seen on TV – on the field – and what we’ve read or heard about him – off the field.
On a scale of 1-to-10, “our” knowledge of college players (you, me and the rest of the great unwashed) is a “1″ when compared to Newsome and DeCosta and Hortiz. That’s the truth. They spend their lives following and evaluating the players. We do it in between commercials on ESPN.
It’s a slippery slope when you’ve never actually met someone and looked them in the eye and yet you feel compelled to make a critical personal evaluation of them.
Sometimes, of course, “a leopard’s spots never go away, they just fade a little” turns out to be the right cliche.
There’s no excusing Smith’s teen-years behavior. We had someone call the show on Friday and poo-poo his failed drug tests and arrests by simply saying, “nearly all of us smoked weed or got arrested, come on man…” Actually, that’s not true. Plenty of people reading this right now never smoked pot or got arrested in their life. And when you get $200,000 worth of free college education, you’re obligated to try and conduct yourself in a manner befitting someone who has just received a benefit that millions of kids in America would give their left arm to receive.
There’s no excuse for radical, destructive behavior. Just saying “lots of people get arrested” doesn’t change the fact that Jimmy Smith’s past is concerning because, as we all were taught in 4th grade, history repeats itself.
But it’s very fair to point out that everyone deserves the chance to turn their life around after a hiccup or two. And unless you’ve had the chance to have a heart-to-heart talk with Jimmy Smith, it’s not possible for you to make an assessment on Smith’s potential in the NFL.
I’m not shying away from the fact that I wouldn’t have picked Jimmy Smith. I said on Friday morning I wouldn’t have picked him and I’m not changing now.
But I’m also not saying he’s a guaranteed failure in the NFL, either.
To borrow a familiar phrase in Baltimore, I’m willing to “let the process play out”. The skinny on Smith is that it’s been two years since his most recent transgression. If that’s true – and he’s been “clean” for the better part of 24 months – that’s a prett solid indication that he’s growing up.
Jimmy Smith might show up here and enjoy a spectacular 12-year career in Baltimore. His wild oats sewn at Colorado, Smith may never again have a brush with the law.
I sure hope that’s the case.
And there’s definitely a chance that the money, the fame, the girls and the rock-star life of an NFL player might intoxicate Smith to the point that he just never quite buys into the idea of becoming a true professional.
We’d all be naive to blindly assume Jimmy Smith won’t be tempted to stray from the straight-and-narrow once he gets his feet under him in Baltimore.
Ultimately, it’s up to him.
It’s not up to Ray Lewis or Ed Reed or Chuck Pagano or John Harbaugh or anyone else in the organization.
Jimmy Smith just went from the JV to the Varsity.
To borrow a line from Training Day, “this s**t ain’t checkers, it’s chess…”
At Colorado, if Smith woke up at 7:30 am and didn’t feel like going to class, he just didn’t go.
When the coach said, “get your work-out in before 1pm”, that could mean get there at 10am or 11am or 12:15 pm.
In the NFL, 7:30 means 7:20.
In the NFL, “study the playbook and know the scheme” isn’t an option you can choose if the cheerleader you’re dating decides she needs to stay in and study for her philosophy exam instead of coming over to meet you to “hook up”.
In the NFL, your professionalism helps your team win games or costs your team games.
The only person who can decide what path he’s going to take in the NFL is Jimmy Smith.
He’ll get guidance, of course. Coaches will mentor him, players will take him under their wing and Smith will be welcomed like every other player in the locker room.
But this story will ultimately be written by Jimmy Smith.
He either has it in his heart to fall in line and be a professional like Lewis, Reed, Derrick Mason, Ben Grubbs, Todd Heap, et al or he doesn’t.
If he makes it, the Ravens made the right pick.
If he doesn’t, they made the wrong pick.
It’s that simple, really.
The proof lies in what happens on the field and how long Smith stays in the league.
And only Jimmy Smith can determine the final result.