I’ve been thinking quite a bit about WR Steve Smith recently. I was a big fan of his coming out of USC. I’ve admired him in his time as a Giant. All jokes aside, you learn to respect some of your enemies and Steve definitely fits that category. So does Hakeem Nicks. I eagerly await the day we’re able to pluck him away, but I digress.
The signing of Smith was odd. He’s not a deep threat. We have a vertical offense. He’s coming off injury and isn’t guaranteed to be 100 percent to start the year. That’s when we’re most likely to be vulnerable at WR. So why add him?
I started thinking more and more about the Green Bay Packers. What did they do? The Packers spread teams out with Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones. Those four guys combined for 20 catches in the Super Bowl. Nelson led the way with 9. The Packers had four good wideouts. No one had four good corners to shut them down.
I think studying them impacted the fact we loaded up on defense. We need a good set of CBs and DBs to deal with Green Bay. I also think seeing how effective their offense was made Howie Roseman and Andy Reid consider adding another veteran receiver.
I think we had some flexibility. Adding a big player like Plaxico Burress would have been nice in the Red Zone. That didn’t work out so we got Smith. He isn’t going to be a major Red Zone factor, but can be important in his own way.
We had four good WRs with DeSean, Maclin, Avant, and Cooper, but there’s one problem. DeSean is definitely a perimeter player. Maclin too. Avant is made for the middle. Cooper right now is best outside. We needed someone else who could play the slot and work the middle. We needed someone who could do the dirty work and help move the chains. Enter Steve Smith.
DeSean and Maclin played in 30 games. They combined for 15 catches over the middle of the field. Smith had 10 such grabs in 9 games.
In his career Smith averages just 10.8 yards per reception. The downside of that is he lacks speed and playmaking ability. The upside is that he is willing to do the dirty work and is also good at it. Smith knows his role. He is very technically sound. Smith knows how to get open. He knows how to work in traffic. He catches the ball well and isn’t going to shy away from contact. DeSean and Maclin have no problem with focusing on outside routes and staying clear of the middle.
Last year teams knew that Avant was the one inside receiver that had to be shut down. He caught 16 passes over the middle. Take him away and then you force the Eagles to adapt. Vick either has to find DeSean/Maclin outside or those guys have to work the middle.
That all changes now. You can line up with Smith and Avant in the slot and DeSean and Maclin out wide. That puts pressure on defenses to cover deep and to cover the middle.
My goal for the Eagles was to get a player who would help in the Red Zone. Smith could do that. Avant and Jackson combined for 2 Red Zone TDs last year. Smith had 3. Maclin had 7. Smith isn’t a big guy, but remember that he’s at his best working on short routes and knows how to deal with tight coverage and traffic. The Red Zone doesn’t take away his deep speed. He doesn’t have any.
I like the fact the Eagles got someone who can help sustain drives. The offense last year led the NFL in plays of 20 or more yards. The offense had a bunch of short scoring drives and delivered all kinds of highlight moments. What the unit lacked was the ability to consistently sustain drives. The addition of Smith doesn’t guarantee improvement, but he gives Mike Vick the kind of weapon he needed – another receiver who will thrive in the middle and on 3rd downs.
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Andy Reid said on his radio show the other night that Smith might well be back in the first couple of weeks of the season. You don’t want to rush Smith and have him come back too early, but the sooner he’s able to play, the better.
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Stats at ESPN.com (forgive the blue uniform)
Here is my ScoutsNotebook write-up on Smith:
Has okay size. Compact build. Very productive. Works to get open. Shows a good feel for how to get open. Plays the Z. Will work the middle. Can adjust to the ball. Runs pretty well. Good hands. Plucks the ball away from his body. Can take a hit. Very effective when he comes in motion and then releases. Gets open by play design quite a bit. Good feet. Has some RAC ability. Catches a lot of passes across the middle. Used a very good out ‘n up move to get wide open vs Michigan. The ball was underthrown and the FS broke up the pass. Will cut block DBs. Runs good routes and seems to get the subtleties of playing WR. Will block LBs. Isn’t a good blocker, but doesn’t shy away from contact. Will remind you of former Trojan WR Keary Colbert. Had an amazing game vs Oregon State this year. Caught 11 passes for 258 yds and 2 TDs. Ran a 4.44 at the Combine. Looked good in drills.
If you’re looking for a dynamic playmaker, Steve isn’t the guy. If you want a skilled, polished receiver who knows how to get open and catches the ball really well, Steve is your guy. He is fast enough to give you some big plays, but isn’t a homerun hitter. Could develop into an excellent #2 receiver in the NFL. Should be a 2nd Rd’er.