Smith was a junior college transfer to Syracuse and spent the 2006 and 2007 seasons on the Orange's roster before declaring as a junior — he was actually five years removed from high school and chose to forego his sixth year of eligibility — for the draft.
He was invited to the Combine, but his disappointing 40 time of 4.63 seconds, the fact that he turns 26 at the end of September, and his lack of experience at the Division I level — only 56 receptions for 1,049 yards — led to him going undrafted.
He was signed by the Green Bay Packers as a free agent, was released on August 30, 2008, and signed to the Colts practice squad in September 2008.
He stayed on the practice squad for almost the entire 2008 season he was dropped on December 3, 2008, but quickly re-signed on December 8th — and was signed to a future contract on January 5, 2009.
Bill Huber at PackerReport.com recalls that Smith, "Had a good camp (in 2008) but was lost in the numbers of four returning receivers, a second-round pick in Jordy Nelson and a seventh-round pick in Brett Swain."
Tyler Dunne, Publisher of BuffaloFootballReport.com, followed Smith's progress in camp last year with PackerReport.com and concurs with Huber's assessement.
"Taj Smith simply was in the wrong place at the wrong time last summer. On Green Bay's loaded receiving corps, he didn't really have a fighting chance," Dunne said. "On the flip side, Smith used the opportunity to flash his ability for other teams. He has 4.4 speed and above-average hands. Smith can turn upfield in a hurry and could carve a niche as a slot receiver with some team. He made a handful of downfield catches at camp."
Smith showed flashes of his pro potential during his time with the Orange
As a fellow Syracuse product, Dunne had a chance to see Smith up close when he was with the Orange. "At Syracuse, it was tough to get a good read on Smith," Dunne said. "On one hand, he was hurt by poor quarterback play. And on the other, he had a great receiver in Mike Williams opposite of him. In any event, Smith made some jaw-dropping plays in the open-field, particularly an ankle-breaking spin in SU's upset of Louisville. The guy can make things happen in the open field."
Overall, Dunne said, "Smith doesn't fit the me-first wide receiver stereotype. He's very soft-spoken and humble, which should serve him well as an underdog at training camp. A year at Indy probably helped him playbook-wise and I certainly wouldn't be surprised to see him earn a roster spot this fall."
Veteran NFL scout Tom Marino saw on film that Smith's 40 time was misleading, saying that, "He is faster than his timed speed. He's smart, runs good routes, and has good speed. He's going to make it as a fourth or fifth receiver on someone's roster, but will be held back by the fact that he doesn't have a lot of special teams potential." And Smith has shown that potential thus far this offseason in OTAs, mini-camps, and now with a very impressive training camp so far.
At six feet tall and 192 pounds, he's the same height as the departed Marvin Harrison and seven pounds heavier. He's the same height and weight as Brandon Stokley. He's one pound lighter than Anthony Gonzalez and seven pounds lighter than Reggie Wayne. All of these men are within a half inch of being six feet tall and within seven pounds of Smith's weight, so, from a measurables standpoint, he fits the mold of what the Colts are looking for in a receiver.
And according to ColtPower editor Eric Hartz, he is fitting the mold on the field, as well.
"Smith has shown good hands and agility during drills, and has some elusiveness once he gets the ball in his hands in live situations," Hartz said. "Most importantly, he's been getting open, and if you do that, Peyton Manning is going to reward you.
"During Wednesday's evening session against a live defense, he caught a medium in-route that was so well-timed it looked like he and Manning were playing catch alone on the field. It took me a moment before I realized — it was the same type of route Manning and Marvin Harrison have hooked up on so many times over the years.
"It was telling that Manning said during OTAs that Smith deserved to be a part of the conversation for the third wide receiver position. And while the slot position looks like it will be going to Austin Collie, Manning's confidence in Smith could go a long way in securing him a spot on the final roster."
The year that he had to learn the offense and the time he was given with quality veteran influences such as Harrison, Wayne, and Gonzalez no doubt have had a profound effect on Smith. He is no longer the raw prospect that he was when Indianapolis originally signed him last September. But, he's also no spring chicken, either, so he must understand that his window of opportunity is more narrow than those of the men he is competing against to make the roster.
He has the skills to make a serious contribution to an NFL roster, but the fact that he doesn't have much special teams experience — whereas Garcon can return kicks — will hurt him. And the fact that Roy Hall brings a physical presence no other receiver on the roster can match could also hinder his chances.
While it's true that he's done everything right so far in training camp for the Colts, he also was impressive in Green Bay last offseason, but ended up catching only two passes for 23 yards last preseason before being waived. It's also true that he's another year older, another year wiser, and has a year in the system surrounded by talented, hard-working professionals.
At some point, prospects need to turn their potential into production. Taj Smith has reached that point in his career. He has our attention — now he needs to make something out of it.
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