At Arkansas Senior High School in Texarkana, Arkansas, Smith lettered two years in football and basketball, and one year in baseball. As a senior in football, he was All-League, All-Area, and All-State. Outside of football Rod Smith has three kids (Roderick Smith Jr., Devin Smith, and Vanessa Smith). He is a business entrepreneur as he has expressed in many interviews, some with his kids in them speaking about their father's accomplishments on and off the field.
Smith enjoyed a stellar career at Missouri Southern State University, finishing with conference records in career receiving yards (3,043) and touchdowns (34). He also broke the school’s reception record (153), and was named first-team All-America by AP, Kodak, Football Gazette and NCAADivision II sports information directors after his senior year. In his final season, Smith caught 63 passes for 986 yards and 13 touchdowns, and was a finalist for the Harlon Hill Trophy, given annually to the top football player at the Division II level. He was named Missouri Southern’s Outstanding Graduate in 1994 after completing his collegiate studies with three degrees, in economics and finance, general business, as well as marketing and management.
After the 1994 draft, Smith went undrafted and was signed by the Denver Broncos as a free agent. His first NFL catch was a last-minute 43-yard touchdown from John Elway in a 38–31 win against the Washington Redskins on September 17, 1995. In fourteen seasons as an NFL player, Smith had eight seasons of at least 1,000 receiving yards. He had two seasons of at least 100 receptions (2000: 100; 2001: 113). In 2000, Smith and teammate Ed McCaffrey became only the second wide receiver duo on the same team to each gain 100 receptions in the same season (see Herman Moore and Brett Perriman). His reception total in 2001 led the league. He was a starting wide receiver of the Broncos' back-to-back Super Bowl championships in 1997 and 1998. In the Broncos' 34–19 win in Super Bowl XXXIII, Smith had 5 receptions for 152 yards (the fourth highest total in Super Bowl history), including an 80-yard touchdown reception. He was a finalist for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2004.
A hip injury that he suffered in 2006 required a complete hip replacement. On December 28, 2007 it was revealed that Smith needed another hip surgery, possibly ending his career. He was placed on the reserve/retired list on February 15, 2008, and announced his formal retirement from professional football on July 24, 2008 in a press conference at the team's Dove Valley headquarters. With two Super Bowls, three Pro Bowls, and a controversy-free career noted for professionalism, Smith left the Broncos as one of the most well-loved players of all time. In May of 2012 it was announced that he would be inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame in his first year of eligibility for the honor. The induction ceremony took place on Sunday, Sept. 23, at halftime of the Broncos' home game against the Houston Texans at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.