NFL analyst Elliot Harrison recently released his 2017 All-Pro Team projections. Unsurprisingly, Baltimore Ravens Marshal Yanda and Justin Tucker are expected to be first team performers. Yanda is a plainly one of the top offensive lineman in the game, evidenced by his selection as either a first or second team All-Pro following five of the six previous seasons. Tucker is a two-time first team All-Pro who turned in probably the best season for a kicker in NFL history last year.
With a slight improvement in his play and a touch of good fortune, Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith could join them in 2017. Projecting Smith as a possible All-Pro may seem like a bit of a reach. He has never even made the Pro Bowl in any of his six seasons to date. However, he has several factors working in his favor ...
First and foremost, Jimmy is a supremely talented player. When healthy and focused, he has proven capable of shadowing and appreciably limiting blue-chip playmakers such as Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown. Smith allowed a paltry 68.5 passer rating in coverage last season, which ranked tenth best in the NFL. He is the total package at cornerback; with elite size, deep speed and ideal physicality in run support.
Secondly, Smith seems to finally be past his injury issues. He does carry a rather extensive injury history, missing 22 games over his career. Now almost three full years removed from Lisfranc surgery, his foot should not be an issue moving forward. A high ankle sprain that cut his 2016 season short has not hindered his offseason training or preseason performance.
Another factor is the relative lack of elite corners in the NFL right now. Darrelle Revis is currently unsigned and Richard Sherman has lost half a step. Patrick Peterson and Marcus Peters make big plays, but give up a lot too. Janoris Jenkins and Aqib Talib have been inconsistent from year to year. A.J. Bouye and Stephon Gilmore both signed with new teams this offseason, a change of scenery is always unpredictable. Smith’s toughest competition at the cornerback position will likely be Xavier Rhodes, Malcolm Butler and Jalen Ramsey; all players who could be overshadowed by their teammates or overlooked if their respective teams underperform.
All-Pro team voting is much more legitimate than the Pro Bowl, but popularity still plays a part with the sportswriters who cast votes. The Ravens are currently slated to take part in six showcase games, contests where the scheduled kickoff times will allow most of the nation to see Smith in action. These games include a trip to London for an early morning match, two marquee Sunday afternoon games, Thursday night and Monday night home matchups against contenders, and a trip to Pittsburgh for a December Sunday night tilt. Smith has a clear opportunity to make a statement to a large audience this season.
Finally, the Ravens front office has put him in a position to succeed through their offseason player acquisitions. The safety tandem of Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson is definitely the best Smith has ever played with. Another cover corner on the opposite side, in Brandon Carr, should force quarterbacks into challenging Jimmy occasionally. Perhaps most importantly, Baltimore’s pass rush will be much improved, with premier talent and outstanding depth ready to provide more chances for takeaways.
In order for Smith to realize his All-Pro potential, he must snare a few more interceptions. After averaging two interceptions per season from 2013-2015, he was held without a pickoff last year. Opportunity may meet preparation in this regard. Worth noting, Chris McAlister corralled three interceptions in 2003, the only All-Pro season for a Baltimore cornerback in team history.
If the Ravens defense is as fierce as many expect them to be, the All-Pro voters will be looking to highlight the defenders who carried the team. Jimmy Smith should allow them to choose a deserving Raven for first team All-Pro cornerback.
Which Raven is most likely to be a first time All-Pro in 2017?
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