During the Ravens' minicamps and organized team activities, outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith was arguably their most impressive and consistent rookie.
Smith consistently displayed athleticism, explosiveness and instincts as a pass rusher and was also adept in pass coverage. He intercepted a screen pass from backup quarterback Matt Schaub and returned it for a touchdown.
The Ravens are banking on Smith contributing immediately as a situational pass rusher and a replacement for outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, who signed a five-year, $39 million contract with the Chicago Bears in March.
Although the true litmus tests for the fourth-round draft pick from Kentucky await in training camp during full-contact drills, Smith made a fast impression on his teammates.
"The new draft pick [Smith], the guy looks good," said veteran outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, the 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, during the Ravens' June minicamp. "He looks really good. I think our coach, [linebackers coach] Ted Monachino, does a good job of making sure he’s prepared and ready to play, and we expect some good things out of him.”
Signed to a four-year, $2.673 million contract that includes a $483,124 signing bonus, Smith is expected to provide a versatile complementary presence behind Suggs and outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil.
"I watched him when he was in Kentucky, and I'm sure [general manager] Ozzie [Newsome] brings nothing but great talent here,' said Dumervil, who set a single-season franchise record with 17 sacks last season. "He's just got to follow the lead, man. We've got guys who can lead him, myself, Suggs, So far, he works hard. So, that's a great thing."
The Most Valuable Player at the East-West Shrine all-star game, Smith has drawn several comparisons to McPhee, taking over his old No. 90 jersey number and bearing a resemblance to him on the field with his long dreadlocks, muscular build and style of play.
"You have the number and the ponytail, so there's obvious comparison to Pernell, but he's a little different than Pernell in the way he plays," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Smith, who recorded 61 tackles, 7 1/2 for losses and 4 1/2 sacks as a senior and six sacks as a junior. "He's his own man, very athletic guy, very serious guy in terms of his approach to the game.
"He's a good fit for our defense, so I'm excited about seeing how he does. This is like all those guys. Once we get the pads on, we'll know a lot more. But so far so good."