Steve Smith has been a class-act wide receiver in the NFL for many years. He currently leads all active NFL players in all-purpose yardage and is the Carolina Panthers’ all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. Smith will be 35 years old heading into the 2014 NFL season, so it is safe to say that he doesn’t have too much time left playing professionally. Trying to gauge how much Smith has left in the tank is something that fantasy football owners should consider when looking at drafting Smith in the upcoming fantasy draft.
Smith has been a consistent receiving option in fantasy for well over ten years. Using a standard scoring system, he has recorded over 100 fantasy points in every single season except for three: 2004, 2010, and 2013.
There are a few reasons that factored into his sub-par performances during those seasons. Starting with 2004, Smith broke his leg during the regular-season opener against the Green Bay Packers and never returned that year. That season won’t be counted in this argument because there is nothing Smith could have done about his injury. Call it just a case of bad luck.
2010 was the year where Smith suffered through the worst season of his career. His low numbers for this season can be attributed to the lack of team offense around rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen. The Panthers would go on to a 2-14 record that year and secure the No. 1 overall pick next season, paving the way for Cam Newton.
So in this argument, 2004 and 2010 won’t be judged because Smith can’t be blamed for injuries and quarterback ineptitude.
Despite his less-than-impressive numbers this past season, he still had a major impact on the team’s success. He made some clutch plays and helped younger receivers like Ted Ginn Jr. and Brandon Lafell learn more about the game. However, things like that don’t award fantasy points, so in fantasy terms Smith had another sub-par season this past year. Carolina enjoyed a very nice season, including a playoff berth. The offense seemed to click and the defense looked ferocious all year.
So, if Carolina looked good as a whole, then how come Smith posted the underwhelming numbers he did? Also, is he in danger of putting on a repeat performance like he did this season?
In 2013, Smith averaged 49.7 yards per game. The only year where he came close to that number was in 2010 when he had 39.6 yards per game. Every other year of his career, Smith hovered around the 60.0 yards-per-game mark. The underwhelming fantasy numbers for 2013 start to make a little more sense at this point. It is clear that Smith wasn’t even getting close to the amounts of yardage he’s posted in previous years. Also, he had four touchdowns this year, which isn’t good for a standout wide receiver of Smith’s pedigree.
Those are a few reasons why Smith had a down year in fantasy terms. Looking ahead towards next season, what should fantasy owners make of him? Think of this: Cam Newton is maturing as a passer and will become more comfortable looking at other options on the field so Smith could see fewer targets and that may contribute to his yards-per-game average dropping. The dip in yards per game average may also have to do with the Panthers choosing to use Smith more in short-yardage situations instead of him going for deep balls like he’s famous for.
The final point to bring up has to do with his age. He will return from a PCL sprain this year. The injury may not slow him down, but it’s hard to imagine a 35-year-old receiver, whose game is built around his speed, keeping that up for much longer. He should continue to decline slowly in the next season.
Fantasy owners should avoid him at all costs. All of the factors mentioned above will only decrease the value of Smith for now and in the future. He will be a liability to any fantasy owner who will draft him. There are many more attractive options that can be chosen ahead of Smith in this year’s draft.