- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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Smith signed a four-year, $41.1 million extension with the Ravens this offseason, and his $10.275 million average per year puts him just outside the top five for NFL cornerbacks. What's more important to Smith is that everyone realizes that he plays like a top-five corner.
"I’d be lying to you if I sat here and acted like it didn’t matter," Smith said. "To me, being one of the top-rated corners is more important to me than having the biggest contract. I guess that just goes hand-in-hand. But, it’s very important for me for the league to know who I am as a cornerback.”
Smith graded out as the No. 20 cornerback in the NFL last season by Pro Football Focus. But he only permitted quarterbacks to complete 51.3 percent of their passes against him (ninth best in the league) last year, and he allowed 8.2 yards per completion (second best in the NFL).
The Ravens understand how well Smith is playing, which is why they gave him $21 million to keep him from becoming a free agent after the 2015 season.
"To be the best, you get paid the best," Smith said. "I feel like I got a great contract, so I’m not mad about it. But I do feel like I’m a top-five corner in the league.”
Smith has all the physical tools to be a shutdown corner. He has the size to press receivers at the line and the speed to run with them.
Asked about his best attribute, Smith chuckled before saying, "My smile."
The Ravens believe it's a little more cerebral than that.
"He is a student of the game," coach John Harbaugh said. "He has matured a lot that way as a football player. He is really taking pains to become a technician and things like that, and he has played really well. The next step for him is to take it to the next level and play into that contract, and that’s what he very much wants to do.”
It took a few years for Smith to develop into the top-notch cornerback that the Ravens envisioned when they drafted him No. 27 overall in 2011. He only started five games in his first two seasons, and he felt like there was a target on his back.
"I got a rude awakening by the NFL quarterbacks," Smith said. "I don’t think I’ll ever think that [any] quarterback is not going to throw at me.”
The turning point came against the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl, where he broke up a pass in Baltimore's late goal-line stand. He is now holding his own against some of the best receivers in the NFL: Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
The biggest indication of how effective Smith has become is this -- he hasn't allowed a touchdown in 11 games.
Smith's next challenge is staying on the field. Injuries have sidelined him for 17 games in four seasons, including the last eight games last year because of a foot injury.
With Smith in 2014, the Ravens gave up seven touchdown passes (tied for fewest in the NFL). Without Smith, the Ravens allowed 15 touchdown passes (tied for 13th most in the league).
That proves how valuable Smith has become to the Ravens.
"I think, really, he’s quietly underrated, and I think he’s really a very good corner that a lot of people don’t know about," wide receiver Steve Smith said. "But I think the injury kind of took away a little bit, and I think that’s why we locked him up so soon, because he’s a great value to this team.”