OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Before his first practice with the Baltimore Ravens on Friday, rookie linebacker Za'Darius Smith watched film of Pernell McPhee and instantly realized why he's been repeatedly compared to him ever since he was drafted in the fourth round last week.
Sort of the same dreads. Same height. Same size.
"We really look alike," said the 6-foot-4, 275-pound Smith.
The Ravens had a void in their pass rush when they couldn't match the Chicago Bears' seven-year, $38.75 million deal for McPhee in free agency. McPhee was a versatile situational rusher who could collapse the pocket from the interior or off the edge.
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti called pass-rusher one of the quietest needs on the team, and Baltimore thought a developing defender from Kentucky was the perfect player to replace McPhee.
Even coach John Harbaugh, who admittedly hates comparison questions, couldn't resist linking Smith to McPhee.
"[He has] the physicality, the heavy hands, the high motor," Harbaugh said. "He has pass-rush ability even maybe more so than we saw from Pernell coming out. He has hips, and he can get around blocks. If he develops like Pernell did, we’re going to have something."
Smith grew up playing basketball and didn't suit up for football until 2010. The decision to switch sports hit Smith when he was a senior in high school and lined up at center in an AAU game.
"Guys were like 7-feet tall," Smith said. "I was like, no rebounds. I had to come up with a backup plan."
Smith went to junior college where he weighed 235 pounds and learned he had a knack for getting to the quarterback. He became the top junior college defensive end prospect and landed at Kentucky, where he recorded 10.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss in two seasons.
When Smith was the 122nd player selected in this year's draft, his mother let him know that he had made the right career choice.
Said Smith: "She said, 'Boy, all of them years that I didn't want you to play football. Now, you're here. Look at you now.'"
Smith soon got a call from the Ravens asking him for his preferred jersey number. He wanted No. 94, which he wore in college, but was told that third-round pick Carl Davis just took that one.
That's when Smith asked for No. 90, which happened be the number last worn by McPhee.
"It doesn't bother me," Smith said of the comparisons. "I know that's something they want me to do is to follow in that guy's footsteps. That's what I'm going to do."