The Baltimore Ravens knew that if they wanted to finally best the Pittsburgh Steelers, their AFC North rival, in the offseason, they needed one thing above all — the kind of speed receiver who could take the hat off opposing defenses and make everything easier underneath. To that end, they selected Maryland receiver Torrey Smith in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft, and watched him go through a very inconsistent preseason. Because they weren't sure where the rookie was just yet, the Ravens then traded a mid-round pick to the Buffalo Bills for speed receiver Lee Evans. Evans was inactive when the Ravens took the field against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, but in the end, it didn't matter at all.
Smith finally came around and put together an unforgettable and record-setting day. He caught his first three NFL regular-season catches in the first quarter, and all of them were touchdowns. This rare performance amassed 133 yards on the touchdowns alone, put the Ravens out in front to stay, and helped the team establish two franchise records: most first-half offensive yards (406), and most offensive yards in a game (553).
Most importantly, those catches helped the Ravens beat the daylights out of the Rams, 37-7.
On the first touchdown (Smith's first NFL regular-season catch) with 12:20 left in the first quarter, he simply showed the speed he was renowned for at Maryland, and burned Rams cornerback Justin King for the score on the sideline route in man coverage downfield. That play was a pure footrace, and though King did his best to keep up, Smith got the extra gear going, Road Runner-style, at the end.
Not bad to start your career with a 74-yard touchdown pass, but Smith wasn't done. On the second touchdown, with 3:38 left in the period, the Rams tried to put a safety up top in a single-high look, and Smith just blew by the cornerback and the safety for another score — this time for 41 yards. Again, the speed made this an unfair matchup.
On the third score, with 1:48 left in the first quarter, Smith showed a lot more than just pure speed. Joe Flacco threw him a rainbow of a ball in the end zone, and Smith just jumped over King in the air to bring the ball in for an 18-yard touchdown. These kinds of fade routes test young receivers, because the timing needs to be right, but Smith looks like a player who had been in the league for years.
In the end, Smith caught five passes for 152 yards and three touchdowns, and he was absolutely the engine that made Baltimore's offense so dynamic. Not bad for a kid who had been called a bust by many observers after struggling with dropped passes in the preseason, and being projected as the team's third receiver behind Evans and Anquan Boldin.
It's not often you see a growth process like this take off in just one game, but if the Ravens can expect anything like this from Smith in the future, the rest of the NFL had better watch out. And Lee Evans may have to take a backseat.
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