Matt Mosley of The Beast, ESPN’s NFC East blog, recently wrote an interesting synopsis on the Giants' wide receivers:
"I'm not sure it's breaking news that the Giants have some speed. [Mario] Manningham, [Sinorice] Moss and [Domenik] Hixon were all on the roster last year. I wouldn't put Steve Smith in the "speed" category. He's able to get open because of his route-running and he certainly has good hands. But no matter what he says, he doesn't have the speed to play wideout at this level."
I strongly disagree with his logic concerning Steve Smith, and here’s why. One reason is because he plays the slot, and in the Giants' offense, as well as other offenses around the league, that position doesn’t allow for many opportunities to go downfield.
The position asks for the particular receiver to play in the same way that a tight end is supposed to play, which is to be a safety valve, work the middle, and get third downs.
The slot receiver, just like his tight end counterparts, also takes a lot of punishment going over the middle because he is always surrounded by linebackers and safeties. In Mike Garafolo’s analysis of Steve Smith after an interview in November 2008, he says:
"For now, Smith is content to run routes over the middle and take the punishment from defenders. And even though [Atari] Bigby's hit taught him to get down after making a catch with his back to the defense, he plans on getting up after every shot."
The second reason is because neither starting wideout on the depth chart from last year had the ability to play inside like Steve Smith can. Plaxico Burress, for all the attention he gets, was neither quick nor a good route runner.
Amani Toomer’s speed and quickness regressed, and even though he had some big catches last year and the year before that during the Super Bowl run, he also had many dropped passes. He actually led all Giant receivers with the most drops (I believe it was around 30 or so).
The problem the Giants had with moving Smith outside was not if he could play outside, but who was capable of replacing him in the slot.
Even though I don’t put a lot emphasis on 40 times, I will make an exception for the purpose of this article. Steve Smith ran an official 40 time of 4.44, which, from my understanding, is fast.
Let’s look at another receiver that I think is comparable to what Smith can become: Torry Holt. I believe looking at a seasoned veteran like Holt will show why Smith is going to become such an important player for the Giants this season.
Torry Holt is 6'0", 190 pounds and also ran an official 40 time of 4.44 coming out of the combine. Holt is an inch taller and seven pounds lighter than Smith.
Since then, No. 81 has amassed a total of 869 catches, 12,660 yards, 14.6 avg., 80.1 Yds/G, and 74 TD. He has many plays over 20 yards and a few over 40 in his career thus far.
What made Holt so dangerous down the field wasn’t that he burned DBs every time he ran a go route, but that he ran precise deep in/out routes, deep slants/posts, flag, seam, and any other routes that he was assigned to run.
Cornerbacks couldn’t stay committed to a route after 10-plus yards because he could turn a go route into an in/out route, slant/post, stop and go, or a five-yard slant into a go route.
This last year for him was a bad year because he was playing with a banged-up quarterback and offense. From what I remember hearing at one time from the so-called experts, Torry wasn’t fast, but he could run crisp routes and get open.
It seems to be that the only way a receiver can be classified as being fast is if that receiver were only known for catching passes on go routes, but if that same receiver ran good routes, they’re more likely to be known as good route runners then fast.
I believe that speed and good route running can coexist, and this is what Smith brings to the table. I also find it very positive that last offseason he spent time working out with Jerry Rice.
Jerry Rice told Mike Garafolo in the same article that he believes Steve Smith has not yet shown his full potential:
"Said Rice, 'You're starting to see only a little of what this guy is capable of. He has the ability to work outside. I've seen his route running outside, so I know he's capable of it.'"
I think that says a lot, coming from a Hall of Famer, about what the Giants have and what is to come of this gem that they possess.