Steve Smith suffered through a severe case of quarterback purgatory the last few years and was slowly and steadily being written off as another aging wide receiver. Cam Newton showed everyone how wrong they were. Smith has always been one to wear his heart on his sleeve, never one to shy away from expressing emotion. Right or wrong, this translated into his performance on the field when he had the likes of Matt Moore, an aging Jake Delhomme, and (gulp) Jimmy Clausen slinging him the ball. After accumulating just more than 1,500 yards and only nine touchdowns over two years, he was being left for dead in fantasy circles. Then Cam Newtown came to town.
That 1,394-yard, seven-touchdown campaign he’s coming off of? It was no fluke. With the shot in the arm injected by Newton, Smith came back as strong as he was when he was in his 20s and it showed on the field. The burst off the line, battling for the ball in coverage, vertical speed, precise route running and mental toughness all came back in one giant explosion. He sure did not look like a fading 32-year-old with the new shot in the arm under center. There’s little reason to expect that to change this year, either.
With David Gettis returning from injury, an offensive line ravaged by injuries finally healthy, a boost to the running game in the form of Mike Tolbert, and another year in the system for all of Brandon LaFell, Greg Olsen, and most importantly, Cam Newton, this offense is set to take off. Unfortunately for opposing defenses, they cannot focus on shutting down Smith. Their No. 1 focus must be on Newton, but, then what? If additional attention is shifted Smith’s way, either the young guys LaFell and Gettis will break free or the middle of the field will be wide open for Olsen and Tolbert. If too many are committed to stopping the pass game, wide open running lanes for Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams emerge. In a division not known for their defense, even containing this offense will be a chore, so there’s only reason to think Smith’s level of production will increase, if anything. With so many mouths to feed, a Top 5 finish is probably a pipe dream, but a WR1 at a No. 2 price? Yeah, that’s fair.
I realize the list of early- to mid-round wide receivers I like just continues to grow with articles already posted on Demaryius Thomas, see here. Pierre Garcon, see here. And Jeremy Maclin, see here. So take this as your sign to resist selecting wide receivers early (more on this in later articles). There’s lot of value in the fourth and fifth rounds. Take advantage.