NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - When the Saints drafted Will Smith with the 18th overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, they knew exactly what they were getting from Ohio State University. A player that played angry, was no-nonsense and led by example. Jim Haslett hoped that what he saw in Will Smith as a Buckeye would carry over as a Saints. And, it did.
From the first time he stepped foot on the Super Dome turf, Smith was a difference maker. Smith wouldn't miss a game that entire first season. His 16-games played with 40-tackles were modest, but his seven and a half sacks reminded all of us that this kid had it in him to be great.
The speed of the NFL was Will Smith's speed. Fast, Direct and Powerful. Smith's style wasn't full of eye-popping swim moves, spin moves, etc., although he had all of that in his repertoire. Smith was a point A to point B defender with point B being the quarterback and his route to him was sometimes a straight line, brute force, run over the guy in front of him, to get to the passer.
From the very beginning, Saints fans ate it up. They loved how he played with passion, with heart, like this city lived and still lives every day.
Will Smith was, from day one, a fit for a career here. In his first three years in the Crescent City, Smith totaled 26-and-a-half sacks. The most on the team. Each season, his sack total climbed, with his first double-digit sack total coming in the 2006 season.
Sure, new guys like Drew Brees and Reggie Bush stole the limelight., but without Smith anchoring the front four this team doesn't make a run to its first ever NFC Championship game.
That was just a sneak peak of what Smith could do. Three years later, he produced his greatest season as a Saint.
Once again, other guys may have shined more in the limelight, but few produced the way Smith did during the teams Super Bowl run. A career high thirteen sacks helped get this team to the mountain top and Smith deserves as much credit for getting them there as anybody.
Unfortunately, in February of 2014 we were reminded of how cruel the NFL can be to aging veterans. The Saints released Smith after a long and productive 10-year career. A season ending knee injury the year before left him a shell of the player he once was, but even during this, the lowest point of his NFL career, Smith shined above it all in thanking the Saints for giving him the opportunity.
"While it was always my dream to retire as a member of the New Orleans Saints, I recognize that the NFL remains a business first. I will always be grateful to Mr. Benson, Mr. Loomis, and Coach Payton for the opportunity they gave me to play the sport I love in front of football's greatest fans, amongst some of my best friends. We accomplished great things during my time with the Saints, including winning the first Super Bowl in franchise history, and I am proud of my contributions during the decade I wore black and gold."
Smith tried to come back, but he was cut by the Patriots during the 2014 preseason. The writing was on the wall and Smith called it quits. Leaving the game is never easy, but Smith left knowing that he'd given it his all. He'd played for 10 years, with one team, and produced from the day he arrived until the day he left. 10-seasons, 139 games played, 363 tackles, 67 and a half sacks, two interceptions, 19-forced fumbles with number 91 recovering 7-of them.
And Smith was durable, missing just five games in a decade.
It's interesting that when you look at the Saints number one need this off-season it is for a pass rushing defensive end. If Will Smith were available today, it's a good bet the Saints would take him again.