Every conversation about Jimmy Smith, the Colorado cornerback who the Ravens selected last night with the 27th pick in the NFL draft, contains a Part A and a Part B.
Part A is a string of positive assessments about his football ability. Smith has great size. He's physical. He's got speed. He plays the game the right way.
Part B is the reason why a player with seemingly all the necessary on-field traits was still available when the Ravens were on the clock with the 26th (or should I say, 27th) pick. That part is the figurative baggage that Smith will carry with him, along with his literal baggage, from California to Baltimore on a flight this morning.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Smith flunked three drug tests while at Colorado, one of which he claims was for misusing codeine (also known as "purple drank", a drug which is becoming a growing problem in the NFL). In addition, he reportedly was arrested twice in alcohol-related incidents, and also was arrested for third-degree assault.
Despite Smith's lengthy list of missteps, the Ravens feel confident that their first-round draft pick will stay on the straight and narrow in Baltimore.
"Every pick there is some bit of a gamble in it," general manager Ozzie Newsome said last night. "But, we trust our process. We trust the people that got the opportunity to spend time with him, and there was a number of people that had that opportunity to spend some time with him."
"He's had a lot of situations," head coach John Harbaugh admitted. "(But) he didn't try to hide anything (when meeting with the Ravens). He put it all out there for the whole world to see. He's going to have to deal with that, and we're going to have to deal with that. That's OK. This guy, I think, is a good person at heart. He's a heck of a football player. We got a great locker room for him, I think we have the right coaches for him, and he makes our team better."
Knowing Smith's ability came with the off-field issues, the Ravens did plenty of homework on him. Director of player personnel Eric DeCosta went out to Colorado early on in the Buffaloes' 2010 season to see Smith in person. The Ravens sent two other area scouts to watch Smith early on, then sent two more scouts at a later date. Ravens coaches worked him out, and team officials talked to him at the combine and during a pre-draft visit he made to the team's Owings Mills facility.
After all that research, Newsome, DeCosta and the coaches gave Smith the stamp of approval, and decided he was worthy of a first-round pick.
"At the end of the day, we just had a comfort level with the kid, both as a person and as a player," DeCosta said. "He's a good fit on our team."
From Smith's perspective, he knows he's made mistakes in the past, but claims he's grown over the last couple years. While he declined to go into detail about his off-field indiscretions during a conference call with Baltimore reporters last night, Smith said he's stayed out of trouble for over two years now.
"The things that I did are old mistakes and bad decisions that I made when I was younger and immature," Smith said. "It's in the past now, and I'm just trying to be the best player and person off the field for the Ravens that I can possibly be."
We know about the rocky process which brought Smith to Baltimore. The Ravens have to hope the cornerback's tenure with the team is a bit smoother than his entrance.