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The Ravens jumped into the Notre Dame safety pool four years ago, taking Tom Zbikowski in the third round in 2008.
ESPN’s Todd McShay believes they may do it again.
Although he admitted he struggled with the pick, the draftnik still projects the Ravens will select Fighting Irish safety Harrison Smith with the 29th-overall pick in this year’s draft.
“Smith is a good value pick who could provide long-term security at safety with the clock ticking on Ed Reed,” McShay wrote.
Smith has ascended draft boards since the season ended, going from a projected second-round pick to a possible first-round selection. He’s widely expected to be the second safety off the board behind Alabama’s Mark Barron.
The reason for Smith’s climb is his standout combine performance, a bounty of strong tape, and likely impressive team interviews.
Smith is a 6-foot-2, 215-pounder with a strong character makeup. The four-year starter does make some mental mistakes on tape, but he’s a student of the game and a vocal on-field leader.
“He’s very smart,” Ravens Director of Player Personnel Eric DeCosta said. “I think he’s a two-time captain at Notre Dame, which tells you about his personality, intangibles and leadership.”
Smith played a hybrid linebacker, safety role in 2009. Some pundits say he’s better suited to play in the box than in pass coverage because of man-coverage limitations and somewhat stiff movement.
Smith was transitioned into more of a secondary spot in 2010 and had his best season, recording 93 tackles and seven interceptions. He followed that up with 90 tackles, no interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery as a senior.
Smith put on a show at the combine, finishing in the top half of all safeties in every drill. He ran a 4.57 second 40-yard dash and had the fastest three-cone time of all those at his position.
“He’s a big, rangy safety who runs pretty well,” DeCosta said. “He’s got good ball skills.”
The question pundits – even McShay – have about Smith is whether he’s truly worth a first-round pick. McShay said he doesn’t see the Ravens reaching for a need position like safety in the first round, and Smith appears to be a borderline first-round choice.
“I see him late first-round, but more probably in the top half of the second round,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “Somebody’s going to get a steal with Harrison Smith.”