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Dark Horse Breakout Player: Defense Edition

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Every offseason there are names thrown around of who will be a breakout player on the Ravens. This year, the trending player is wide receiver Breshad Perriman, almost by default. Over the next couple of days, I will be examining all three phases of the game, and determine who could be a breakout player whose name isn’t tossed around as much for each. Let’s start with the defense.

For the defense, players like defensive tackle Brandon Williams, and even outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith have been picked as breakout players, but for me, the player ready to break out is cornerback Jimmy Smith. Yeah yeah, I know he is already the best corner on the Ravens and is getting paid like it, but he is not seen as one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. I see him undergoing a Josh Norman type breakout year. A year in which Smith elevates himself into the elite tier of cornerbacks in the NFL.

The way that Jimmy Smith brings his game into that elite level is by increasing his interceptions. Last season, Smith had three interceptions, including a pick-six against eventual Super Bowl champion Peyton Manning of the Broncos. However, those three picks only brought his career total up to eight. Smith has played 63 games in his career, and let's face it, eight interceptions is pretty good, but it's not elite. In Darrelle Revis’s first 48 games he already had 14 picks. Those are the kind of numbers Jimmy Smith needs to put up in order to be considered elite. And there is no reason why he can’t do it.

And even if  Smith doesn’t put up gaudy interception numbers this year, he will get many opportunities to shut down the top receivers in the league. He will be matched up with Antonio Brown and A.J. Green twice, and have games against Odell Beckham Jr., Amari Cooper, Allen Robinson, Dez Bryant, as well as Jarvis Landry. Plus, he will get a chance to pick on Tom Brady in Week 14.

Smith will get many chances to go up against the best. If Smith can shut these top receivers down, there will be no argument about his status as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Josh Norman was able to vault up to elite status with a fantastic season this past year, and there is no reason why Smith can’t do the same.