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Spotlight: Steve Smith

posted by Steve Holloway on Jul 23rd


Steve Holloway's thoughts

Setting the Stage
Stevonne (Steve) Smith played high school football and ran track at University High School is Los Angeles, California. On the football team, he played both sides of the ball at running back and defensive back. His track efforts focused on the triple jump and hurdles. He attended Santa Monica College, a two-year junior college following graduation and excelled in both academics and football and was a teammate of Chad Johnson. Following his two years there, he transferred to Utah where he continued to play well, starting 18 games, catching 72 passes for 1,355 yards and scoring 11 TDs. He was invited to attend the NFL Combine and ran a 4.39 40-yard dash. He was drafted in the third round (74th overall) by the Carolina Panthers. He has remained with the team his entire NFL career, which at this point encompasses eleven seasons.

Smith began his NFL career primarily being used as a return man. In his second season, he was used more often as a receiver and had 94 targets. Other than 2004, when he was broke his leg in the first game of the year and missed the rest of the season, he has always had 100 targets or more. He packs a lot of power in his 5-foot 9 frame, even though he weighs only 180. He is a fast twitch player that has some speed, but utilizes his strength and elusiveness more than his speed. Perhaps his greatest talent on the football field is his tenacity. He is without a doubt one of the fiercest competitors in the league.

A review of his career stats provided below shows that he has finished in the top ten wide receivers four times and in the top twenty another three times. Since his involvement in the offense became more prominent in 2003, he has only finished outside the top twenty twice and one of those years was when he played in only one game that season. He played several years with decent quarterbacking by Jake Delhomme, but in many other years the Panthers quarterback has been poor. An unexpected development last year, his first with Cam Newton, found him with a yards per catch rate of 17.6, which was the second highest of his career. This fact highlights the improvement at quarterback for Carolina.

Year Gms Tgts Recs Catch% RecYds YPR TDs Rank
01 15 10 154 15.4 0 115
02 15 94 54 57.4 872 16.1 3 42
03 16 141 88 62.4 1,110 12.6 7 15
04 1 8 6 75.0 60 10.0 0 143
05 16 150 103 68.7 1,563 15.2 12 1
06 14 140 83 59.3 1,166 14.0 8 8
07 15 148 87 58.8 1,002 11.5 7 16
08 14 128 78 60.9 1,421 18.2 6 5
09 15 130 65 50.0 982 15.1 7 19
10 14 100 46 46.0 554 12.0 2 69
11 16 129 79 61.2 1,394 17.6 7 6
Totals 151 1,168 699 59.1 10,278 14.7 59

Looking Forward to 2012
The Panthers did not make any changes to the coaching staff and are expected to run an offensive game plan similar to what they ran last year. They drafted a talented offensive line prospect early in the second round that could possibly move into the starting line-up and traded for an additional quality depth lineman. Their offensive line should be ranked in the top half and possibly could play even above that level. Their running back roster goes even deeper as they keep DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart as the top running backs and add Mike Tolbert, who will likely play a lot of fullback but is capable of more. All three of these players are quality receiving threats out of the backfield.

Steve Smith has long been the Panthers top wide receiver as witnessed by the target comparison table below. Despite missing games in most of the previous six seasons, Smith has dominated the wide receiver targets for Carolina. The only two seasons where the team's second wide receiver received at least 30% of the total wide receiver targets was in 2008 and 2006 and those receivers were Muhsin Muhammad and Keyshawn Johnson. The candidates for the second wide receiver in 2012 will likely be either Brandon LaFell or David Gettis, who do not compare favorably with either Muhammad or Johnson, so expect Smith to easily garner 45% of those targets again.

Smith Smith WR #2 WR #2 WR Total WR Smith
Season Targets %Targets Targets %Targets Targets #Gms
11 129 49.2% 75 28.6% 262 16
10 100 38.0% 76 28.9% 263 14
09 130 49.2% 89 33.7% 264 15
08 128 44.8% 108 37.8% 286 14
07 148 47.1% 75 23.9% 314 15
06 140 41.2% 128 37.6% 340 14

Cam Newton had an amazing rookie season passing for 4,051 yards and 21 TDs and also running for 706 yards and another 14 TDs, even while contending with the very short preparation time available last summer. Even though their offense will remain similar, it would not be surprising for Newton to be able to handle more, particularly in the passing game with the full slate of pre-season workouts. While Smith led the team a year ago with 129 targets, he only had four games with ten or more and finished twelfth among the league's wide receivers in targets. This number should not be lower in 2012.

Positives

  • Smith is the obvious candidate to lead the Panthers in targets
  • He adds motivation again this year as he wants to play a few more seasons and will be a free agent after 2012
  • Newton should be more prepared to run the offense this year

Negatives

  • Carolina had the third best running game last year and should continue to be run focused
  • Smith could face continuous double teams if the supporting wide receivers do not improve
  • Many expect that Newton will continue to run the ball in goal line situations limiting Smith's TD opportunities

Final thoughts

Smith is currently being drafted as WR15 and 42 overall, even while he finished as WR7 a season ago. He can provide value for your fantasy team being drafted that late again this year as he is once again considerably under-valued. He is also an amazing competitor that will provide you joy as you watch him compete week in and week out this season.


Quotations from the message board thread

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

butcher boy said:

I'm probably not as high as others on Smith this year. I'm counting on Newton regressing a bit, and the emergence of Lafell and Gettis coming back will eat into his targets.

az_prof said:

Steve Smith is tough to predict. If you look at his career production, it is all over the map. For many of those years, he had substandard QBs. One would assume that CAM will be as good or better in his second year although that assumption doesn't always prove true--some second year QBs DO regress. My biggest concern is Smith's durability, given his diminutive size, aggressive style of play, and age. He is 33. I just don't see how you can count on him repeating last year at this point. I will go with his 2009 production as a base line.

Ministry of Pain said:

Smith and Newton gave us a "taste" of what they can do last year and that was with very little time in camp, etc...

I would think Smith continues to wreck havoc on defenses, and he could have an uptick in production.

I have him projected for 88/1388/8-10Tds

FF Ninja said:

I've been a huge Smiff proponent since I started playing FF in 2003, but last year was the first year he was completely off my radar.

He's back on it, but he's got some pretty stiff competition. At his ADP of 43 (WR16) I imagine he'll outperform that, but I really like Percy at 42 (WR15) and Miles Austin at 45 (WR18). I certainly won't be able to justify taking him over Julio Jones (ADP38, WR13) who appears ready to become the WR1 in ATL (better catch %, ypr, and TD/rec than White). I've already drafted him over Austin and Harvin in one league, but I kind of had buyer's remorse about passing over Harvin. In the end, I think all 3 will do well, possibly leapfrogging higher drafted guys like Welker, White, Jennings or Nelson...


Steve Smith projections

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