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Spotlight: Steve Smith

posted by Greg Russell on Aug 8th


Greg Russell's thoughts

Offense? What offense?

To call the Carolina Panthers' quarterback situation last year a disappointment would be a massive understatement. With John Fox on his last legs as head coach, an unimaginative offensive coordinator in Jeff Davidson and an incoming pair of rookie wide receivers, it was destined to fail from the outset. Matt Moore provided some semblance of stability when he was healthy, but injuries derailed his campaign and forced second round pick Jimmy Clausen into action. Clausen's inexperience, combined with the team's lack of wins, led to a miserable season for Steve Smith and his owners in 2010.

To put Smith's disappointing season into perspective, it is worth noting that the longest reception Smith was able to reel in was a measly 39-yarder. I watched every snap of Smith last season. It was not that he "lost a step" or anything of the sort, rather it was the dismal quarterback play that affected his value so severely. Defenses keyed in on Smith more and more as the season progressed as Clausen often tried to force feed the ball to the mercurial Smith. The former Utah Ute registered only two touchdowns, a pitiful number by his standards.

This offseason, Smith kept his cards close to his chest as regards his future with the team. It appeared a near certainty that he would, as a 32-year old wide receiver in the twilight of his career, seek a trade to a contender. The Chargers, Ravens and Patriots were tossed around as possible destinations for the former Pro Bowl player. Ultimately, he made the decision to retire a Panther. Undoubtedly, influential owner Jerry Richardson had a role in encouraging the Panthers' most explosive offensive weapon to stay, what with the kind of impact he can have on a football field.

What does 2011 hold?

Steve Smith's fantasy owners may have been deflated to hear the news that he would be staying in Charlotte, but there is reason for optimism for the wide out. At the recent Fan Fest held at Bank of America Stadium, Smith commented to the press afterwards how he appreciated the fact that he wouldn't be lined up on the same side of the field for "70 plays a game" anymore, taking a not-so-subtle shot at his former offensive coordinator and coaching staff. New offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski is installing a version of the West Coast offense in Carolina. An emphasis of the offense is to move Smith around, exploiting his talents and challenging opposing defenses.

In my opinion, one of the biggest downfalls of the John Fox regime from an offensive perspective was how criminally underused the tight end position was. There was no legitimate threat for defenses to take account of down the seam, so safeties could easily roll to Smith's side. Rob Chudzinski is a believer that all good offenses should have a threat, or multiple threats, at tight end. The Panthers added two former Hurricanes in Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey to expand the offense's options. This will have a knock-on effect on Smith, who will see fewer double teams.

Second year players David Gettis and Brandon LaFell displayed marked improvement in their play towards the end of 2010. Chudzinski's offense will emphasis a downfield passing game - much like the San Diego Chargers under Philip Rivers - that takes advantage of the outside receivers' size and strength to win the football in the air. The recent addition of Legedu Naanee will push these young players to perform.

The big question, as ever, is at the quarterback position. Reports out of camp are that Jimmy Clausen has looked solid, but that he is simply too conservative with the football. This will not fit with what Chudzinski wants to do, plain and simple. However, first overall pick and quick fan favourite Cam Newton has been very impressive despite the steep learning curve ahead of him. Unlike Clausen, the Heisman trophy winner has not been afraid to take shots downfield, even if he made a mistake. It is this fearlessness that "89" will love. Smith has lauded Newton's strong arm and playmaking ability, and the two worked out in Charlotte before the lockout ended, presumably building chemistry and getting to know each other.

The take home point here is that the 2011 quarterback situation in Carolina is shaping up to be one that is friendlier to Steve Smith. Newton may lack experience, but I firmly believe that he will be named the starter from the get-go. He brings a skill-set to the table that will be a great fit for the offense, which will heavily feature Smith.

Positives

  • Steve Smith is happy with the direction of the new offense and his skills will be exploited in the X, Y and Z receiver spots.
  • The Panthers have invested a lot of money to upgrade last year's bumbling offense, adding a pair of tight ends, re-signing DeAngelo Williams and revamping a conservative coaching staff.
  • Smith still has the speed, quickness and talent to be a top 20 option if the pieces fall into place.

Negatives

  • The Panthers still lack a number two option at wide receiver in the mould of a Muhsin Muhammad who Smith excelled with.
  • If it is Cam Newton who starts for the Panthers, inevitably Smith's upside will be capped due to Newton's inexperience in a pro style offense.
  • The new offensive scheme, especially if Newton starts, will feature a heavy dose of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. By virtue of the lack of passing attempts, Smith won't be as much of a factor on a game-by-game basis.

Final thoughts

Steve Smith has the desire to play bigger than his size and has always shown it on the football field. At 32, he has not lost much of his blazing speed and his fit in the new offense in Carolina seems a good one. However, relying on a rookie quarterback - even one as dynamic as Cam Newton - is a risky proposition for Smith's fantasy value. Trust him with confidence as a high upside number two wide receiver for your squad.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

jacobo moses said:

Lets face it I like the guy and all. I have him in a dynasty league. But 58 Rec 883 Yds and 5 TDS is probably realistic. Lets see what reasons I have to have his stats so low.

  • Rookie QB (Unproven throwing to him.)
  • Run Heavy team (Healthy dose of Stewart and DWill)
  • ON a rebuilding team

Think those are reasons enough to barely make him a WR2 probably closer to a WR3.

Ministry of Pain said:

Rookie QB, Derek Anderson, and...Smith will be double covered every time and catches will be tough to come by. Smith's talents are really what he does after the catch and for that to happen he needs to get the ball in space. That won't hapen often enough but there isn't much else to throw to in Carolina. If he can stay healthy I would project something like 64/850/5 TDs.


Steve Smith projections

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Greg Russell60950500
Message board consensus61866500