Now that I have fully digested the NFL Draft results, I have started looking at how each player fits into their new teams. Some of the most interesting selections were from within our very own AFC North. Every team in the division had an above average draft and looked to be improved on paper. But how do these players fit in with their new teams and how will they match up vs. their newly drafted rivals? In this series, I will look at how the Bengals picks should match up against some of our division rival's newest weapons. We get started at the top with the Bengals first draft choice and the fourth overall player taken in the 2011 NFL Draft, wide receiver, A.J. Green. He will find himself lined up opposite two other AFC North rookies not only in 2011, but also beyond. The Baltimore Ravens selected CB Jimmy
Sith Smith with the No. 26 overall pick (Steelers drafted Curtis Brown, 95th overall). Depending on free agency, and other non-football factors (Lockout!), Smith could have a significant role in Baltimore's defensive game plan early in the 2011 season. So, what should we expect when we see Jimmy Smith lined up against A.J. Green?
A.J. Green - 6'4" 210 lbs - 4.48
Jimmy Smith - 6'2" 212 lbs - 4.42
On October 2nd 2010, Georgia and Colorado met in what looked to be a great match up between A.J. Green and Jimmy Smith. This was Green's first game back after a four game suspension (for selling his jersey) and Smith was becoming known as a shut down CB. Just looking at the stat sheet, you'll see that Green had 7 receptions for 119 yards and 2 touchdowns. He smoked Colorado all game. What you wont see is that Green had 0 receptions while Smith was covering him. Why wasn't Jimmy Smith covering Green all game you may ask. It's because Smith plays the majority of his snaps at the right CB position (think Leon Hall). Georgia knew this and tired to line up Green away from Smith as much as possible. A lot of times, Georgia would have three receivers to the offense's left and Green would be the lone WR to the right. The match up they wanted was vs. the 6'1/2" Jalil Brown. Not a small CB by any standards, but smaller and less talented than Jimmy Smith. The game plan was a success for the most part. Georgia lost the game, but their plan to get Green open as much as possible worked.
A.J. Green's Advantage
Green has the advantage when he can be moved off of the line and put into motion before the snap. This will allow Green to have a free release and not get tangled up in Smith's long reach. When the ball is in the air, Green has the advantage over almost any CB in the league. He can adjust and locate the ball before catching it at its highest point. Green has a huge catch radius and should be fine even when Smith is covering him. If all else fails, (and if the Ravens leave Smith at one CB spot) the Bengals can keep Green away from Smith for the most part.
Jimmy Smith's Advantage
Smith is a physical press corner who excels in man-to-man coverage. His mentality makes it even tougher for receivers to get open. Smith believes the ball is his and he will fight for position. He is highly competitive and extremely confident in his skills. His attitude is contagious throughout the defensive backfield. Once he knocks down a pass with his long arms, the rest of the secondary starts to feed off of his energy. Smith may never be great at covering a receiver like Wes Welker because of the footwork and agility, but the taller receivers are where Smith will make his money.
AFC North Match Up
A.J. Green's biggest strengths are his size and natural play-making ability. Jimmy smith isn't a good match up for the Bengals because he takes away most of Green's size advantage. The average NFL CB is 5'11". Green should win most of those jump-ball situations, but when lined up vs. Jimmy Smith, Green only has a two-inch advantage. Both plays are known for their long and lean physical builds. Both have very long arms and good leaping ability. They pretty much cancel each other's biggest strengths out. I expect the Bengals and Jay Gruden to get creative and move Green around so that his height can still be useful when playing the Ravens. Baltimore likes to bring exotic blitzes and leave their corners in man coverage with Ed Reed in single high to jump routes and make the big play. This works well for Smith because he's at his best in man-to-man and in press coverage. Baltimore's biggest weaknesses when playing the Bengals over the past 5 seasons have been their lack of a deep threat WR (we'll get into how they fixed that next time) and their lack of talent at CB. The Ravens haven't been able to cover the Bengals receivers in years and with the selection of Jimmy Smith, they have moved themselves into position to fix that problem.
AFC North Advantage: Jimmy Smith
This was tough for me to admit, but I think Jimmy Smith has a very slight advantage when he's covering A.J. Green. Smith was easily a top 15 talent in the 2011 NFL draft, but character concerns allowed him to drop into the bottom of round one. I like Smith against bigger WRs like Fitzgerald, Moss, and Andre Johnson, but not so much when covering guys like Steve Smith, Santonio Holmes, and Ochocinco. The guys that are in and out out their breaks fast will give Smith more trouble than the jump-ball receivers. I don't know if the Ravens gained an advantage over the Bengals by selecting Jimmy Smith because obviously the Cincinnati drafted a better player in A.J. Green. Plus the offense always has the edge because they can line their guys anywhere they want. If the feel like Smith is a threat to their offensive game plan, Jay Gruden will move Green around to free him up. This was something Chad Ochocinco almost never did under the old regime. Either way, expect these two to line up against each other and entertain us for years.