Rumors of Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith’s demise were prevalent in fantasy football circles as he went through two disappointing seasons in 2009 (65 receptions for 982 yards and seven touchdowns) and 2010 (46 catches for 554 yards and two touchdowns). But the arrival of Cam Newton in 2011 revived Smith’s career (and fantasy value), and he had more than 70 receptions and topped 1,100 receiving yards in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2005 and 2006.
Carolina returned to the postseason in 2013, but Smith did not have a great season, with 64 receptions for 745 yards and four touchdowns in 15 games played. Newton’s career-low in passing yardage (3,379) looks like a primary reason for Smith’s drop in production, but he will also turn 35 in May and his best days are behind him. Panthers’ general manager David Gettleman has acknowledged a possibility Smith will not be back with the team next season, but a restructuring of his contract looks more likely than an outright release.
What should fantasy owners expect from Smith in 2014?
Carolina does not have a lot of depth at wide receiver right now, so Smith would remain the team’s top option at the position and a primary target for Newton unless some offseason moves significantly re-shuffle the depth chart. If he were to be let go, there’s a good chance Smith would not be the No. 1 wide receiver on a new team and his fantasy outlook would get significantly cloudier at that point.
Under the assumption he remains with the Panthers, and despite Gettleman’s comments I expect that to be the case, Smith will still be a solid choice as a WR2 or WR3 in 12 and 14-team leagues next season. But expectations for how he’ll produce should be set based on 2013, not the previous two campaigns.
Brad Berreman is a Senior Writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.