2012 Players To Watch: Torrey Smith

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 19: Torrey Smith #82 of the Baltimore Ravens talks with teammates during the second half of a preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs at M&T Bank Stadium on August 19, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Ravens' sophomore receiver Torrey Smith had quite an interesting rookie season. After being unable to participate in the usual off season activities and OTA's in 2011, due to the lock out and getting off to a slow start in the preseason with some early drops, he went on to tie the Ravens rookie touchdown record with seven.

After failing to record a single catch in the first two games of the season, the former Maryland Terrapin exploded for 152 yards yards and three touchdowns on five catches in week three against St. Louis. Smith and quarterback Joe Flacco out-played the entire Rams defense for the majority of the game as St. Louis simply could not come up with an answer for the vertical ability of the speedy rookie.

His ability to "keep the defense honest" paid immediate dividends for running back Ray Rice. Apparently the Ravens had every intention of getting the ball to Smith heading into the week three contest as they went to him early and often. If it weren't for the fact that he and Flacco were still developing their chemistry, he could easily have had five touchdowns with over 200 yards. After Smith was able to repeatedly get behind the defense early in the game, Rice took advantage of the Rams pass heavy defensive formations and ran for 81 yards on only nine carries for an average of nine yards per carry. Rice went on to rush for a career high in yards (1,364) and touchdowns (seven) as well, even though he carried the ball fewer times than the previous season

After that game Ravens fans were able to see in Torrey what the team had seen in him since before the draft. A legitimate deep threat that can change the way a defense plays them and enable others on the offense the opportunity for more production. Baltimore finally had the type of receiver they had been looking for so long. In that game Ricky Williams also carried the ball five times for 42 yards for an average of 8.4 YPC. Anquan Boldin was also able to take advantage of not having to face the other teams best corner the whole game as well, chipping in with seven catches for 74 yards. In a perfect world this is exactly how the Ravens pictured their offense working when they drafted the speedy Smith 58th over all in the second round last year.

The knock on Smith, even until this point, has been that he is a "one trick pony", simply a deep threat that needs work on his route running. However, I believe that he is much farther ahead of what most people think. Towards the end of last season Smith was becoming successful running a variety of routes. We saw him turn short slants into big gains and seemed as comfortable on the deep sideline passes as he does going over the middle for a deep post or shallow crossing route.

All of Torrey Smith's seven touchdowns came in five games last season. In those games he showed the ability to be a game changing receiver and Ravens fans every where could see him growing up right before our very eyes. We have already talked about the hurting he put on St. Louis in week three. In week eight, against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Smith logged 71 yards on five catches including the game winning touchdown in what was the Ravens biggest come back win in the John Harbaugh era, and the most defining moment in Smith's young career. He also put on a stellar performance in week 11 against Cincinnati with six catches for 165 yards and one touchdown. Then again in weeks 14 and 15 he logged five catches and a touchdown, and six catches and a touchdown respectively.

By the end of the season you could really see him start to find his niche in the offense and become both a vocal and physical leader on the field. Smith has now repeatedly stated that he is expecting a 1,000 yard season in 2012 and by all accounts he should. In 2011 he was second of all Ravens receivers with 841 yards after not having logged a catch in his first two games and going into the season with less knowledge of the playbook or the NFL as a whole after the lock out.

This year he has attended his first OTA and has a whole year of NFL experience under his belt. Including a strong chemistry with his quarterback and other receivers. Look for Smith to have a big season this year. Of all of my "2012 players To Watch" he may be the one I'm most excited about. Ray Rice showed flashes of being a stud running back his rookie season and slowly the team gave him more and more work before giving him the number one role and now he is a top three running back in the league. I look for the team to handle Smith in the same fashion as they did Ray Rice because he has that same sort of elite ability on the field.

Sometimes with these players you can see it right off the bat. They come into the league and it is obvious that they are on another level than others physically. The trick is to make sure that they develop to be mentally elite as well. Which is where Ray Lewis comes in. If Smith can develop mentally any where near his physical ability, he will be driving defensive coordinators crazy for years to come... Just like Ray Rice does now.

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