Eric Allen

Evolution of a cornerback

Evolution of a cornerback

When Jimmy Smith was 13 years old, his older brother, Ryan Smalls, told him he would be a first-round draft pick and NFL cornerback one day.

“It's funny but I believed it,” said Smith, who never had played until his brother took him to an open field near their Oklahoma home and challenged Smith to stay in front of him. “I don't know why I did. But I promise you, he said it, so I believed it.”

Smith's belief in his ability never has wavered. To him, an uneven rookie year with the Ravens was a struggle but not a setback. An injury-marred second year tested his patience but not his confidence. Even now, when some of the same people who called him a draft bust are including his...