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Is Jimmy Smith's foot to blame for his poor performance?

The youngster who was poised to become a shutdown corner has fallen off the map of late. Are injuries to blame?

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Cornerback Jimmy Smith was practically destined to be the next great Raven defender when he was selected with the team's first pick just five years ago. With great intangibles, physicality, decision-making, and a 4.4 40-yard dash, the stars were all aligned for a budding superstar. It may have taken him a few seasons, but Smith finally burst out onto the scene last season, and proved why the Ravens selected him with their first pick in 2011. Before going down in Week 8, Smith was a top 10 cornerback, and some would even say he was bordering on earning the "shutdown" distinction. In the first six weeks of the season, he had only allowed 18 catches and 135 yards. None of those catches resulted in touchdowns either. This play was good enough to give him the rank of seventh-best corner in the league, and fourth-best in pass coverage, according to Pro Football Focus. But after suffering a season-ending Lisfranc injury, he just hasn't been the same.

This season has been the polar opposite of last for Smith, who has gone from a shutdown corner to a liability in the secondary. Smith has been ripped apart by opposing receivers, most notably in Week 3, when A.J. Green ripped him apart for 10 receptions, 225 yards, and 2 touchdowns. To give you an idea of just how bad he has been this season, Shareece Wright has been performing better than him, according to the metrics of PFF. In fact, Pro Football Focus, the same agency that coveted Smith so highly last year, has him as their 78th-ranked cornerback this season.

So why has Smith fallen so far in just the matter of months?

My explanation is that he just hasn't recovered properly from his foot injury. He just hasn't looked the same, and has lacked the tenacity and mobility to play using his best skill set, covering in press.

For more information on just how this sort of injury can damper how an athlete performs, I went to our own in-house doctor, Dr. Bobby Esbrandt.

  • Jimmy Smith suffered a Lisfranc injury, specifically, a Lisfranc foot sprain. Can you explain what this injury is in layman's terms?
To understand what a Lisfranc injury is, a little knowledge about the involved anatomy is required. The foot is comprised of 26 bones which can be characterized into 3 parts: the hindfoot, the midfoot, and the forefoot. The tarsometatarsal joint (also known as the Lisfranc joint complex) is the area where the tarsal bones of the midfoot articulate with the metatarsals (long toe bones) of the forefoot. A series of ligaments help to bind these structures together. A Lisfranc injury is simply a disruption of these articulations; resulting in a dislocation, and possible fracture, to one or more of the metatarsals.
  • For the typical person, what would the timetable be for a recovery from this injury? What activities can they not partake in with this injury?
Lisfranc injuries can be treated either non-surgically or surgically. The decision entirely depends upon the severity of the injury. In cases when surgery is not required, recovery can still take up to 6-8 weeks because of stretched/damaged ligaments. If there is evidence of significant instability (i.e. dislocations, fractures) then surgery is required to stabilize the foot with a combination of screws and metal plates. Most sources claim that recovery time after Lisfranc surgery generally takes around 5-6 months.
  • Are there any prominent examples of athletes returning from this injury in the same form as before? Or do athletes with Lisfranc injuries often retrogress?
Numerous NFL players have experienced Lisfranc injuries including past Pro-Bowlers Le'Veon Bell, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Santonio Holmes. Bell's injury did not require surgery but Jones-Drew and Holmes did. Just like with any surgery, some players respond and recover better than others. Due to the fact that screws, metal plates, and other hardware are utilized in surgery to properly stabilize the foot, one of the main concerns is regaining adequate foot mobility. A certain amount of this is necessary for an athlete to be able to effectively cut and change directions.

With that said, new research from The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine states that the majority of NFL players recovering from Lisfranc surgery return to competition within 9 to 15 months (84.6%). It also found that nearly 93 percent of NFL players who sustained traumatic injuries to the midfoot (between 2000-2010) returned to competition less than 15 months after injury and with no statistically significant decrease in performance.
  • After reading up on the Lisfranc injury in the NFL, it seems like there has been a rise in the occurence of this specific injury recently. Some are attributing this to new turf surfaces and modern cleats. Do you believe that there is any basis to these claims?
I've read the same concerns about these things possibly contributing to a rise in Lisfranc injuries. I think there may be some merit to them, however, there isn't any definitive evidence (as of yet).

So what's the takeaway here? While there has certainly been adequate time for Smith to recover, (1 year and 1 month now) it seems as if the performance of an athlete may be hindered long after the recovery time of 5 to 6 months. With the position of cornerback being so dependent on precision footwork, it's not surprising at all that this injury could still be bringing down Smith an entire year later.