Jimmy Smith is NFL's top cornerback despite playing on one healthy leg

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith has always wanted to be recognized as the NFL's top cornerback.

Smith has achieved that goal at the midway point of the 2017 season. Unfortunately for Smith, he winces more than smiles about it.

In what has to be one of the more remarkable feats this season, Smith leads the NFL in defensive passer rating (24.5), despite playing on one healthy leg. An Achilles injury in early October has forced Smith to miss more than half of Baltimore's practices during the past five weeks, although no one could tell by his play on the field.

Smith gave up six catches for 66 yards before the injury, and he has given up six receptions for 34 yards after it.

"He can be the best corner in football," coach John Harbaugh said. "I think I said that three weeks ago. Now, everyone is getting onboard. It's good that you guys saw the light."

Smith, the No. 27 overall pick of the 2011 draft, has always had the tools to be among the best cornerbacks in the league. His biggest challenge has been staying healthy.

Somehow this year, he has not only fought through the pain but has put together the best season of his seven-year career.

This is how impressive Smith has been:

  • He totaled more yards in returns off interceptions and fumbles (105) than he has allowed as a corner (100).

  • Smith has scored two touchdowns this season, and only one Ravens player has more (wide receiver Jeremy Maclin with three).

  • He's the only player in the NFL with at least 20 tackles, seven passes defensed and two defensive touchdowns.

Overall, he has given up a total of 12 catches, 100 yards and no touchdowns in eight games. It has the makings of being Smith's first Pro Bowl season.

"I always believe in my head that I'm one of the top players," Smith said. "If the polls say that I am one day, that would be dope, too."

Smith doesn't remember when he injured his Achilles. There's no concern that it will tear, which is why he is continuing to play.

But Smith feels the pain in it when he practices and plays in games as well as afterward.

"It's not an injury where you can't perform," Smith said. "It's more of a pain tolerance. How long can you withstand the pain running around on it? It's not like an achievement playing through it."

The bigger achievement for Smith is shutting down the likes of Antonio Brown and A.J. Green, who were held to a combined two catches for 27 yards when lining up against him.

In the last game, Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore had a 0.0 passer rating when throwing at Smith, who perfectly timed an interception in the fourth quarter and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown.

"He has some measurables that not a lot of guys that play his position have," Maclin said. "When he's healthy, he's one of the best in the league, and he's proven that."

Whether Smith acknowledges it or not, the injury has obviously impacted him. He was limited to seven snaps in Week 5 in Oakland, where he returned a fumble 47 yards for a touchdown. Smith has also missed eight of 15 practices since hurting his Achilles.

In the offseason, Smith said he can't be mad at those who labeled him "injury prone" after he missed 23 games in his first six seasons. Now, he has earned a different label: shutdown cornerback.

"Every player wants to be recognized if they haven't already been," Smith said. "So it is cool to get your name called. But at the end of the day, your work is your work."