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Ravens See Steve Smith Sr. in Zay Flowers … And So Does Smith

(From left to right) WR Steve Smith Sr. & WR Zay Flowers
(From left to right) WR Steve Smith Sr. & WR Zay Flowers

Not long after the Ravens drafted Zay Flowers on Thursday night, he was asked about former Ravens' wide receiver Steve Smith Sr.

Flowers began to smile, like he had just seen a football thrown his way.

"I think I play like him," Flowers said. "Smaller guy, but play bigger. Competitive, try and go up and get the ball. That's why I loved watching him, that's why I admired his game."

The feeling between Smith and Flowers is mutual. Now an analyst for NFL Network, Smith doesn't give out praise lightly, especially when comparisons are made between him and another young wide receiver. But Smith jumped on the Flowers bandwagon before the draft, seeing a tenacious target who reminded him of himself.

People sold Smith short when he entered the NFL, largely due to his 5-foot-9 stature. But Smith had a career worthy of Hall of Fame consideration, playing 13 seasons with seven 1,000-yard seasons – one of them coming in his first year with the Ravens in 2014.

Before the draft, Smith said the team that selected Flowers would get a true No. 1 receiver, a versatile target who had talent and intangibles that would enhance any offense.

"He's kind of like me, he's a jitterbug who can move around," Smith said. "Five (foot)-10, 172 pounds, that's after Thanksgiving, that's after every feasting holiday, he's that heavy.

"What I really love about Zay Flowers is, he makes the quarterback right. He has that rare ability – speed and change in any direction, at the blink of an eye. He's a movable weapon. Which means he's a mismatch problem. You can't even touch him when he's in a phone booth. That's how fast he is. You cannot put a price tag on athleticism. The best part, he's not a finished product. So if you get him in the right system, with some good coaching … use his ability even more? That lets him blossom. With the right coaching staff and the right offense, this young man at 5-10 can play big-boy ball like us little guys have always played."

New Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken and the entire Ravens coaching staff are already thinking about ways to use Flowers' talents. The Ravens know how good Smith was, and while they're not putting pressure on Flowers to become the next Smith, they are pleased that a player they respect sees star potential in their first-round pick. 

General Manager Eric DeCosta received a ringing endorsement on Flowers from Smith when they spoke face-to-face conversation at the Combine. 

"[I have] a lot of respect for Steve," DeCosta said. "[He's] one of the great competitors that we've ever had here, I think, and [he's] a fantastic guy. I consider him a good friend. We talk about receivers. He's got strong opinions, and he loves Zay, too, so it's mutual. I will say this; if Steve Smith has that much respect for a receiver, you better pay attention."

To his credit, Flowers is very familiar with Smith's game. He has studied his tape since he was 6 or 7 years old, and has patterned some of his game after Smith's. Now he'll be playing in the NFL for the same organization that Smith retired from in 2016. For Flowers, that's fitting. 

"My dad always told me, 'It doesn't matter about size; it's about what's in your chest,'" Flowers said. "He always kept me motivated and said, 'You have to be like Steve Smith. Steve Smith was a dog.' So, that's what made me like him, and love him and watch him a lot. So, it means a lot to look up to him."

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