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Brooks: Smith Faces Forward, Sees Bright NFL Future

Apr 27, 2011

(Third Of Four Stories On The Buffs And The 2011 NFL Draft)

BOULDER - Jimmy Smith is fast enough to keep most issues in front of him, put others behind him and, if forced to, quickly make up ground. That's on the football field.

Off of it, well, that's another matter; his speed isn't as much of a factor. He's not trying to outrun his past, but forgive him if he is a little puzzled that it is dogging him as it has for the last several months - just in time for the 2011 NFL Draft.

The former Colorado cornerback generally is regarded among the top five at his position in this week's draft, joining Patrick Peterson (LSU), Prince Amukamara (Nebraska), Aaron Williams (Texas) and Brandon Harris (Miami). Peterson, Amukumara and Smith appear the best first-round candidates, with Peterson likely to be the first corner taken.

From there, there is hedging among analysts on whether Amukumara or Smith will be chosen next. And in Smith's case, a trio of 2007 indiscretions as a CU freshman - a positive drug test, a pair of alcohol citations - is being identified by draft handicappers as "baggage" or "character issues" that could devalue Smith on draft day. (Round 1 is Thursday, Rounds 2-3 are on Friday, Rounds 4-7 on Saturday.)  

Smith told me he hasn't been reading, listening to or watching any of the pre-draft coverage that alludes to his past and what that might mean for his immediate future. He is of the opinion that mistakes made as a college freshman shouldn't forever form a dark cloud above him. He says he has moved on, done right and would hope that his model behavior since 2007 has been recognized.

"I control what I can control," he said from his home in Colton, Calif. "The stuff that's being talked about is from a long time ago. I don't think any of that is going to be a factor - not for the teams that are really interested in me."

Smith, of course, isn't about to undersell himself or his ability. In a video produced by NFL.com, he put his swagger front and center, imploring teams to "draft me because I'm the best corner in the draft and I can support the run. I'm the biggest corner in the draft, I can move and I'm the most athletic. There's no corner in the draft that can cover the way I can cover."

No, he isn't short on confidence, and the bulk of the draft watchers believe he has the size, ability and speed to match. The NFL officially lists him at 6-foot-2, 211 pounds, with a 40-yard dash timing of 4.46 seconds.  The NFL's overview contends "corners with Smith's size, speed and confidence in press coverage don't grow on trees . . . (his) tools and upside will likely land him in the second round."

However, that projection is subject to change - and it appears it will.  A number of mock drafts have Smith going late in the first round, with veteran NFL writer Peter King of SI.com predicting Smith will be taken by Baltimore with the 26th pick of Round 1.

King's synopsis of that selection: "Smith would love to play alongside Ed Reed and behind Ray Lewis. Some teams are shying away from him because of off-field problems. Some teams would like to shy away because of off-field problems but can't - because he might be as good a player as Patrick Peterson when his career's over. The Ravens can put in enough safeguards to make sure Smith behaves. And this just in: They desperately need a shutdown corner."

In a brutally candid interview last August as his final CU season loomed, Smith outlined his senior goals. They included becoming more of a leader ("I'm not a leader by choice, but you kind of have to be in your fifth year.") and not taking any plays off ("There's a handful of times that I should have been more ready . . . I attribute that to focus and intensity.").

He also told me that by mid-summer, agents already had begun circling, so much so that he changed his cell number. And he said this about the NFL: "I have to think about it at this point. I mean it definitely alters the way I do things; I have to stay on the straight and narrow path. The more I think about it, I think the more I grow up here at school. I know they're not taking any crap up there (NFL) and I have to make sure I'm good down here before they even take me. Besides the football, that's all a part of making it in the NFL."

All the right words never hold up without corresponding behavior, and I came away from that interview with Smith believing his "baggage" and "character issues" were in his past. As a CU senior, Smith did exactly what he and others expected of him.

His teammates voted him the Buffs' most outstanding defensive player, and Big 12 Conference coaches made him one of their first-team all-conference defensive backs. With Smith at right corner - he started all 12 games there - most of CU's opponents tossed their passes to the opposite side of the field. He allowed one touchdown in man coverage (Texas Tech), broke up five passes and made 70 tackles (183 for his career).

Growing up, Smith believed his first sport was basketball but eventually was convinced otherwise by older brother Ryan, who still coaches football and track in California and has been nearly a lifelong mentor for Jimmy as he successfully navigated what could have been misguided and badly spent formative years.

When Smith turned from hoops to football and honed in on playing cornerback, he began watching bigger NFL corners, hoping to pattern himself after players such as Dale Carter, who played for five NFL teams from 1992-2005, and current corners Nnamdi Asomugha (Raiders) and Darrelle Revis (Jets).

Smith considers himself "a freak athlete" and says his strong suits are "press coverage, physical play, my speed and my height and reach advantage . . . I've taken a little bit of their games, but I've got my own type of game and technique."

He told NFL.com, "I like to come up and make tackles. I like to make plays when the ball is in the air. I'm a big-time playmaker. I like to play in the big-time games."

Smith believes he performed well at this winter's NFL Combine, but said a "tweaked hamstring" kept him out of the Senior Bowl. Succeeding interviews and individual workouts with NFL teams left him "pretty confident I'll go pretty high . . . nobody told me it would be in the first round, but you never know," he said. "All the teams told me they were very interested, but I think they all tell you the same stuff. You don't know for sure until the day it happens."

On that day, Smith and his family "will have a little barbeque and relax," he said. "I'm not going to be nervous because I can't control it. If I drop to the second level, that's OK. It's an honor to be in the position I'm in. Right now, I just want to get back to playing football."

(Thursday: Nate Solder - Small-Town Kid With Big-Time Future)

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU