The Baltimore Ravens have long been searching for a deep threat at the wide receiver position, going through several draft picks such as Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams and Yamon Figurs. Despite spending multiple picks over the years on speedsters in the draft, they have struggled to find the vertical threat that could blow the lid off of opposing defenses. So in the 2011 NFL Draft, they turned to Maryland wide receiver Torrey Smith.
The Ravens selected Smith with the 58th pick in the second round as a developmental wide receiver with a lot of natural talent. Smith, like his former teammate Darrius Heyward-Bey, has blazing speed and the ability to eat up cushion from defensive backs in a hurry. He is very raw however, as he has ran few routes on the route tree that quality receivers typically are able to run in the NFL. His catches mainly came from flanker screens, bubble screens, go and post routes at Maryland. Despite that, the Ravens selected him high in the draft, and he has paid off early with three big touchdowns in his Week 3 debut.
Smith’s first touchdown came at the 12:27 mark of the first quarter. He beat cornerback Justin King on a 9 route, which is often referred to as a “Go” route. In the pre-snap phase, the Ravens lined up in 12 personnel (1 running back and 2 tight ends). The two tight ends were lined up on the wing while there were single receivers to each side of the formation. The Rams defense gave Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco a 2 high look, which could indicate Cover 2, Cover 4 or a combination coverage.
At the snap, the Rams rotated to 1 high safety and played what’s commonly referred to as Man-Free. In Man-Free, all linebackers and cornerbacks are in man coverage while the single high safety is in zone coverage in the middle of the field. What this means is that Torrey Smith is going to be facing cornerback Justin King in a one-on-one matchup and must win at the line of scrimmage.
Beating a cornerback at the line of scrimmage is very important to the development of the route, and what helps Smith in this case is his 1.53 10-yard split at the Combine. The 10-yard split measures short area quickness, which is what is needed to beat cornerbacks at the line of scrimmage.
Smith, who has an excellent 10-yard split (better one than Desean Jackson of the Eagles), does a good job of jabbing his inside foot to shift the weight of the defensive back in that direction before exploding back outside.
Once Smith explodes outside, he does a good job of maintaining the distance between himself and the cornerback as well as getting on top of the route. One of the things that coaches teach receivers to do is to get on top of the cornerback or route, which is to put the cornerback in trail position and most importantly, create space down the sideline for the quarterback to throw in. As can be seen below, Smith does an excellent job at this and leaves a big window between his outside shoulder and sideline for Joe Flacco to throw into.
Moving forward to his second touchdown, Smith ran a Skinny Post route, which he’s familiar with considering he ran it frequently at Maryland to attack the middle of the field. The Ravens come out in 21 (two backs, one tight end) personnel and immediately draw an extra box defender from the Rams. This means eight in the box and three players in the defensive secondary to account for the deep throw. As one can see below, the Rams are showing 1 high because of the eight defenders in the box.
In the pre-snap phase of the previous play, they showed 1 high safety as well. They ended up playing Man-Free post-snap but on this play, they were in Cover 3 after the snap of the ball. Cover 3 is a 3 deep (1 safety and two cornerbacks) set with the field divided into thirds while there are four zone defenders underneath.
At the snap of this play, Smith’s foot quickness at the line of scrimmage is a problem once again for cornerback Justin King. Smith gives a jab outside before turning it back into an inside release and threatening vertically. On this play, backside wide receiver Anquan Boldin gets behind the four underneath zone defenders on a crossing route and is open, but quarterback Joe Flacco aims for Torrey Smith on the skinny post for the deep ball. Smith’s vertical speed is a problem for cornerback Justin King as well as rookie safety Darian Stewart. Stewart takes too much of a direct angle at Smith, which is something he cannot do as a free safety if he plans on getting over the top of the vertical route, and Smith outruns the angle for the six points.
On Smith’s third and final touchdown, the Ravens come out in a 21 (2 backs, 1 tight end) personnel and matchup Smith on the outside in man coverage against King. One thing to note on this play is that Smith lined up on the numbers. When a receiver lines up on the numbers in the red zone, a cornerback should expect an out breaking route, such as a fade route, because the receiver is lined up on the numbers so he has enough space to work with outside. At the snap of the ball, Smith takes a mandatory outside release and again does a good job of leaving space for his quarterback to deliver the ball into while coming down with the catch. In the image below, the spacing that Smith leaves is noticeable. Look at the 10 yard line and note that it is 12 yards up from the sideline. Smith is at about the midway point of the sideline and the numbers, so he leaves six yards of space for Flacco to drop the ball in for the touchdown.
Rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith of the Ravens had an outstanding debut and the Ravens hope that he builds on his performance in the following weeks. Smith had more touchdowns in the first quarter of his first game than Mark Clayton had in his rookie season, and the same amount of catches that Yamon Figurs has in his career. Despite a quality debut that showed a lot of potential and promise, Smith will have to continue to work hard to improve his technique, route running and overall skills. He certainly has the potential to do damage in the NFL with his natural skills.