Jimmy Smith made his name as a Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver during the 90s heyday, but he got his start at Callaway High School in Jackson, Mississippi. He played wide receiver and earned All-conference honors as a senior. Long before becoming the Lightning to Keenan McCardell’s Thunder on the Jaguars, he was given the nickname Silk for making the big plays look easy. With no DI offers out of high school, Smith accepted a scholarship to Jackson State University becoming one half of the top receiving duo in Division I-AA alongside Tim Barrett. Smith caught 40 receptions balls for 877 yards (21.3-yard average) and 9 touchdowns. Against Southern University, he made 4 receptions for 184 yards and tied a school record with 3 receiving touchdowns (70,64 and 37 yards). Before graduating with a degree in business administration, Smith finished his college career with 110 receptions, 2,073 yards, and 16 touchdowns. He was named to the Jackson State University All-Century team in 2011.
Smith was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the second round (36th overall) of the 1992 NFL Draft, joining a team that already had Michael Irvin, Alvin Harper, and Kelvin Martin. He played in just seven games as a special teamer, without registering a reception, though he won his first Super Bowl ring when the Cowboys went on to defeat the Buffalo Bills 52-17.
In 1993, he was leading the team in pre-season (13) and receiving yards (197), while competing for the role as the third wide receiver that was left open with the departure in free agency of Kelvin Martin, behind Irvin and Harper. Smith underwent an emergency appendectomy surgery and ended up missing the entire 1993 season and the Cowboy’s Super Bowl XXVIII appearance.
He was cut by the Cowboys that off-season and briefly joined the Philadelphia Eagles. He was on the brink of his career break out and he would find his chance with the expansion Jaguars.
He competed with Desmond Howard, Ernest Givens, Willie Jackson, Cedric Tillman, and Curtis Marsh throughout training camp for a job as a starting wide receiver. Head coach Tom Coughlin named him the fifth wide receiver on the depth chart behind Howard, Givens, Jackson, and Tillman. He finished the season leading the Jaguars in kickoff returns.
The next year, he became a starter after Andre Rison was released following the 11th game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He would emerge as a dominant receiver, finishing with 1,244 receiving yards (led the AFC) and 7 touchdowns, while helping the team win its last five games and reach the AFC Championship Game.
Smith would remain one of the cornerstones of the franchise for a decade. His teammates gave him the nickname J-Smooth and would later be known with Keenan McCardell as “Thunder and Lightning.”
Smith continued to be a key member of the Jaguars offense and helped lead the team to playoff appearances for four straight years (1996–1999). In 1999, he helped make the Jaguars the best team in the NFL during the regular season, registering 1,636 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns.
In 2000, his best career game came against arguably one of the best defenses in NFL history, when he posted 15 receptions, 291 receiving yards (fifth in NFL history), and 3 touchdowns, against the eventual Super Bowl champion the Baltimore Ravens.
In 2001, he overcame three difficult intestine operations during the offseason, to remove scar tissue related to the appendectomy procedure he underwent in Dallas.
In 2003, he was handed a four-game suspension for an undisclosed substance-abuse violation. He would have a down year with 805 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns.
On May 11, 2006, Smith abruptly retired from the NFL. He finished his career seventh in NFL history with 862 catches and 11th in league history with 12,287 yards. He had 67 career touchdown catches with the Jaguars. Smith had been voted to the Pro Bowl five straight times from 1997 to 2001. He is also the Jacksonville Jaguars all-time leading receiver, having led the team in receiving every season from 1996-2005. He set team records with 116 receptions (also led the league) and 1,636 yards in 1999, both career-highs. His career-high in touchdowns was eight, achieved in 1998, 2000, and 2001.
In 2016, he was inducted into the Pride of the Jaguars
Off-field troubles plagued Smith after his playing career, but along with his wife Sandra and their five children, including University of Wyoming wide receiver Trey Smith, Jimmy Smith has rehabbed his life and focuses on making a difference in other people’s lives through his Jimmy Smith Foundation.
Current Jackson State University coach Deion Sanders said of Smith when he retired, “Jimmy might not have the national recognition of Jerry Rice at the WR position, but every defensive back that has played in the 1990s to current, and every defensive coach in the league knows exactly who he is. He will go down in history as one of the best,” and though Smith has yet to garner much attention from the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he deserves to be at least mentioned in the conversation. Smith is No. 51 all-time in career receiving touchdowns (67), No. 24 in receptions (862), No. 24 in receiving yards (12,287), No. 10 in yards per reception (16.1), and No. 23 in receiving yards per game (22).