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Spotlight: Steve Smith

posted by Mark Wimer on Jul 22nd


Mark Wimer's thoughts

Steve Smith has spent the last seven months recovering from left knee surgery performed in December to repair articular cartilage damage. The procedure was a type of microfracture surgery, and as of May Smith was still doing rehabilitation workouts in a swimming pool. As of mid-July, it is unknown if Smith has started running on land or when he will start doing actual football drills. The bottom line here is that Smith will likely be an unrestricted free agent under the new CBA, and it is unclear if he will be ready for football whenever training camp opens. He is in a very dicey situation due to the injury - even though he put up a breakout 2009 season with 157 targets for 107/1,220/7 receiving, and was on pace for a similar season through nine games in 2010 with 75 targets for 48/529/3 receiving.

The Giants watched other players "break out" last year, with Hakeem Nicks putting up 128 targets for 79/1,052/11 receiving, and Mario Manningham throwing down for 92 targets yielding 60/944/9 (a gaudy 15.7 yards per catch average). Both players had their best seasons so far. Nicks is now securely enthroned as the Giants' #1 wide receiver, leaving Manningham penciled in as the team's #2 wide receiver heading into training camp. A lot remains to be seen on that front, though, as free agency has yet to occur and we aren't sure if Smith will be rejoining his Giants teammates in August or if he is moving on. Additionally, it's not clear that Manningham would yield his second spot on the depth chart to Smith even if Smith is healthy and does re-sign with the team.

Manningham has been with the club three years and can boast of 197 targets for 121 receptions, 1,792 receiving yards and 14 TDs since joining the team (a 14.8 yards-per-reception average). Smith has four years under his belt in New York, with 328 targets for 220 receptions, 2,386 receiving yards, and 11 total TDs (a 10.8 yards per catch average for his career).

Eli Manning has ranged from 479 to 539 passing attempts per year since 2006 (five years), and ranged from 289 to 339 completions per year during that same time span, with his high-water mark of 339 completions coming last year. Nicks and Manningham combined for 220 targets in 139 receptions last year, while the running backs saw a total of 82 targets for 63 receptions during 2010, and the tight ends handled 101 targets for 57 receptions. That left 136 targets and 80 receptions to be shared around with the other wide receivers on the depth chart. Smith accounted for 75 of those 136 targets and 48 of the 80 remaining receptions before being forced from the field. There simply aren't enough completions on this team to keep three wide receivers fantasy relevant.

The Giants have a nice problem on their hands, with a plethora of talent at wide receiver to choose from. Don't forget Ramses Barden who enters his third year with the team - he is coming off an ankle/knee issue but is reportedly on track with his rehabilitation, and last year's preseason star Victor Cruz is back for his second year as well. With good depth at the position, they may opt to let Smith test the (very short) free agency period once the league year opens. Clearly, there are a lot of variables in play behind Nicks on the depth chart.

Positives

  • Four years of experience in the Giants' system
  • A good track record of productivity
  • May be attractive to another quality NFL team during free agency

Negatives

  • Microfracture knee surgery for cartilage damage is a risky proposition
  • Lack of time for Giants' trainers to treat/manage his rehabilitation this year due to the lockout
  • Questions about whether he'll be ready for the already abbreviated practice schedule during 2011 makes a transition to another team in free agency very difficult

Final thoughts

There are a lot of scenarios to play out yet on the Giants' roster, so it's difficult to slot the expectations for Manningham and Smith with any precision. Currently, I have Manningham at 45th on my non-PPR wide receiver board, slightly lower than the consensus ranking of 40th, and I have Smith at 36th, which is slightly more optimistic than the consensus ranking of 39th. Obviously, if Smith moves on in free agency Manningham will move up my board significantly (Smith's movement will depend on his landing spot if he goes to a new team). My projections at this time assume that both players stay on with the Giants.


Quotations from the message board thread

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

Jason Wood, Senior Writer:

This, to me, is one of the more interesting situations at WR this year.

Smith really emerged two seasons ago as a reliable possession receiver, but with enough downfield speed to be more than "10 yards and a cloud of dust" type of PPR-only option. But he was quickly trumped by the overall elite skill set of Hakeem Nicks. Either way, it set up for Eli Manning to have a daunting 1-2 punch for years to come. But a funny thing happened on the way to the box score. Mario Manningham, who brings a different (and perhaps more compelling) skill set to the table, while Smith got hurt.

I wouldn't be surprised AT ALL, if Manningham delivered Top 20 numbers with a full season as the starter, and with the new free agency rules it appears that Steve Smith will be unrestricted. We'll get a real sense of how serious Smith's injuries/recovery are by how aggressively the Giants move to re-sign him in the coming days. If Smith is allowed to walk, Manningham is criminally underdrafted right now IMHO, and the fact no one has even projected (or discussed) him yet illustrates that.

Go Blue said:

I will say that I've been higher on Manningham than anyone I know this offseason. I do see a jump in receptions this year. That should lead to more yards. As we all know, TD's are hard to predict for any player. I've stated in the 2011 sleeper thread that I would not be surprised if Manningham is a top 15 WR. I stand by my predictions.

Late225 said:

Before going down, Steve Smith was a WR2 and Manningham was a WR4 in most PPR formats. To me, this all depends on Smith's injury. I don't hear of this injury too often, but this seems like something that can linger and get worst over time. If that's the case, I agree with the other posters and Manningham will have a career year. If he comes back and looks fine, I expect him to be a solid PPR league starter all year and perform as a WR2/WR3 type player.


Steve Smith projections

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Mark Wimer65750500
Message board consensus68707400