To say Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith doesn’t lack for confidence might be an understatement.
During a conversation with reporters at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Smith was asked about being compared to Oakland’s perennial Pro Bowl selection Nnamdi Asomugha.
“I like the comparison, he’s a shutdown corner in the NFL,” Smith said. “I mean, I like the comparison a lot. I think I have better ball skills than he does, though.”
Problem is, Smith’s numbers don’t exactly reflect his brash comments. He finished with three career interceptions during his time at Colorado, and had none during a 5-7 campaign in his final season with the Buffaloes.
But those statistics don’t tell the entire story, according to Smith, who said teams regularly avoided throwing to his side. Smith earned first-team All-Big 12 honors despite having no picks his senior season.
“I had one opportunity for an interception, a one-handed interception, and I dropped it,” Smith said. “After that, I had, like, three passes thrown my way for the rest of the season.”
What has most NFL teams interested, including the Seattle Seahawks, is Smith’s rare size and athletic ability. At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Smith ran a 4.42 40-yard time at the combine, pushed up 24 reps on the bench at 225 pounds, and posted a 36-inch vertical jump. And he’s considered a perfect fit for the press cover scheme Seahawks coach Pete Carroll installed on defense last season.
Smith reportedly visited with Seahawks’ brass at the team’s Renton headquarters this week.
“I’m a big, athletic, physical corner,” Smith said. “I love to press. I have great speed, great size, great ball skills. I’m a shutdown corner.”
Smith is considered the third-best cornerback prospect in this year’s draft behind Louisiana State’s Patrick Peterson and Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara. Peterson and Amukamara likely will be off the board when Seattle selects at No. 25.
But off-the-field issues have Smith’s stock dropping, including reports of a failed drug test in 2007 and two arrests for possession of alcohol as a minor while at Colorado.
At the combine, Smith responded to those reports about his behavior.
“I went to college and I made some mistakes, but all of them were freshman and sophomore year, actually my redshirt freshman year, so two freshman years,” he said.
Michael Lombardi, a former NFL front-office executive and draft analyst for the NFL Network, said teams will have to weigh Smith’s obvious talent against the risk of problems arising again when he’s given a lucrative contract without the restrictions of college life.
“He’s never actually been in a lot of trouble, but he’s been around trouble,” Lombardi said. “You have to handle that and decide what risk you’ll take on, what responsibility you want to assume based on what round you want to do that in. Ultimately, you will be judged.
“The bottom of the first round, I think that’s a risk maybe a lot of teams might not want to take as they move forward, especially how they define character.”
“He’s a little inconsistent, but when he wants to play, he can play,” said Rob Rang, senior draft analyst for NFLDraftScout.com. “He could be special. If he didn’t have the off-the-field issues, he could be a top 15 or 10 pick. In terms of size, speed and physicality he’s an elite cornerback, and you just don’t see those at No. 25 in the draft.”
The Seahawks certainly could use the help in the back end of their defense. Seattle finished 27th overall in pass defense last year, giving up 249.6 yards a game during the regular season. The Seahawks also allowed 31 touchdowns through the air, tied for third-worst in the league.
A lack of a consistent pass rush contributed to Seattle’s struggles defending the pass. The Seahawks finished with a respectable 37 sacks in 2010, good enough for 13th overall. However, 16 of those sacks came with a four-man rush, as Seattle regularly had to blitz to create pressure up front. That put more pressure on the secondary to cover for longer stretches.
But ultimately, Seattle’s starting corners struggled to consistently make plays. Kelly Jennings and Marcus Trufant finished with a combined two interceptions. Only the starting corners for Miami (Shaun Smith and Vontae Davis had one each) and Oakland (Stanford Routt had two and Asomugha none) shared the same numbers.
But the Dolphins had the No. 8-ranked pass defense in the NFL, and the Raiders were No. 2 – basically no one threw to Asomugha’s side.
Jennings, a first-round pick for Seattle in 2006, is a free agent this year and might not be back. Trufant, the No. 11 overall pick in 2003, turns 31 on Christmas, is due to make $5.9 million in base salary this season, and might be asked to restructure his contract.
Overall, the Seahawks have decent depth at secondary, which could mean they are willing to pass on someone like Smith in the first round.
Seattle drafted Walter Thurmond out of Oregon last season with the prospect of the 6-0, 190-pound cornerback competing for a starting job in 2011. Thurmond played more than expected his rookie year after coming off major knee surgery his senior season with the Ducks.
Another person who could compete for a starting job is Canadian Football League product Brandon Browner. The 6-3, 210-pound corner out of Oregon State has the size and speed Seattle is looking for in a press corner. The 26-year-old was a two-time all-star for Calgary in the CFL before signing a futures contract with Seattle in January.
Others who could contribute in the secondary next season include Kennard Cox, Roy Lewis, Marcus Brown and Josh Pinkard.