Faceoff: Steve Smith
Jeff Haseley: As the 2010 season approaches, more people are talking about Hakeem Nicks than Steve Smith as the WR of choice in the Giants WR corps. All of this despite Smith's 107-reception season last year. The main draw among fantasy enthusiasts is the belief that Smith's teammate, Hakeem Nicks is someone who could break out in a big way in 2010. After all, he had a very impressive Top 30 ranking in his rookie year, which included 47 receptions, 790 yards and 6 TDs. He was able to reach those numbers despite starting only six games, playing on a broken toe all season and being one of three big cogs in the Giants WR corps. So what's not to like? Nothing. Continue the interest in Nicks, but don't sell Steve Smith short just because Nicks is on the verge of being an elite WR.
Why is Smith valuable? He currently has an ADP of WR15, which makes him a WR2 selection, which is right around where he should be. He had an outstanding season last year, especially in PPR leagues, catching 107 passes with 7 TDs. He is not expected to reach those numbers again with the emergence of Hakeem Nicks, but for the most part, he is not being drafted to repeat his 2009 performance. He will continue to be a reliable target for Eli Manning as evidenced by his league-leading 38 receptions on third down plays last year, including 29 first downs and 3 TDs. Smith had 11 games of six receptions or more, mostly because of his 68% reception percentage.
How many WR2s have 140+ target potential? The answer - not many. Smith had 157 targets last year. Only Andre Johnson, Roddy White and Wes Welker had more. He is clearly Eli Manning's favorite target. That is likely not going to change. Nicks may emerge as a better play-maker for the Giants, but Smith is the glue that will keep the offense moving down field.
Smith is 1 of 7 players in NFL history to reach 100 receptions or more in his first three years in the league. He joins Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Brandon Marshall as the only active members of that exclusive club. If his quality of play is indicative of the aforementioned present company, he's in good shape.
Before anointing Hakeem Nicks as the King of the Giants WR corps, keep in mind, Smith had 60 more catches than Nicks last year.
Clayton Gray: Yeah, I get it - Steve Smith turned in a Pro Bowl campaign in 2009, with 1,220 yards and seven TDs on 107 catches. Dig a little deeper into those numbers and you'll find an 11.4 YPC average. While that was a nice jump from his 2008 season of 10.1 YPC, Smith's average was still pretty pedestrian.
A few comparisons of receivers with ADP that is near Smith:
- Sidney Rice - 14.3
- Anquan Boldin - 12.8
- The other Steve Smith - 14.5
- Chad Ochocinco - 14.5
As you can see, the Giants' Smith is way behind most similarly-valued receivers. To compensate, he'll need to catch far more passes than the likes of Boldin and Ochocinco. There are several reasons why this won't happen, but they can all be summed up with a single phrase:
Lack Of Necessity
With the loss of Plaxico Burress, the 2009 version of the Giants offense was missing a big-time playmaker. Most prognosticators felt there was a small chance that Hakeem Nicks would immediately be able to fill Burress' shoes, but it was far more likely that several players would elevate their game and group-replace Burress. Obviously, Nicks didn't step in and instantly become an elite option. Oh, he flashed excellence, but the rookie receiver experienced growing pains (like most first-year wideouts do) and suffered most of the year from a broken toe. That meant a group-replacement was the only viable option for the Giants offense.
However, the group fell apart. The aforementioned Nicks was hobbled as were running backs Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. With their two primary backs being held back by injury, the Giants were forced to throw often. With Nicks also ailing, Smith's numbers were elevated as he was the only viable healthy receiver.
The group has now recovered. With Jacobs and Bradshaw at 100%, the ground game will get more attention and eat into the passing numbers. With Nicks at full health, Smith's portion of the slightly reduced aerial attack will be smaller.
And before anyone says this is just the downside, is it reasonable to expect Smith to build on last year? Does anyone think 2010 could hold greater numbers for him? Of course not. Last season was as good as it gets for him. There is zero upside here.
With more options in New York, Smith will not approach the 100-catch mark in 2010. It is not unreasonable to expect only 80 receptions. With his low YPC, Smith might not find the 900-yard mark. If the touchdowns drop (remember that Smith only had a single score in 2008), you're looking at a mediocre fantasy receiver.