The Baltimore Ravens made a splash by signing veteran wide receiver Steve Smith to round out the receiving corps, but the move has drawn mixed reviews from fans. The proponents point to Smith’s outstanding production with the Carolina Panthers, while his detractors fixate on his age (35 years old) and worry that he’s washed up. His 2014 numbers might not jump out at you, but Smith will be a critical weapon and go-to receiver for Joe Flacco.
Bringing in receivers that are toward the end of their careers isn’t a new experiment for Baltimore, and Smith will join the likes of Derrick Mason and Anquan Boldin as veterans that thrived wearing the purple and black. Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com expanded on that comparison:
This reminds me of the times when the Ravens added experienced receivers Derrick Mason in 2005 and Anquan Boldin in 2010. Actually, Smith shares similarities with both receivers. Just like Mason, he can move the chains with comeback routes. Just like Boldin, he brings that fiery attitude that was sorely lacking in the Ravens' offense last season.
Smith has invoked instant comparisons to Boldin in particular and while they differ in terms of physical build (Boldin at 6’1”, 220 lbs; Smith at 5’9”, 185 lbs) that comparison is an accurate one.
For starters, they are both very physical receivers with a knack for out-muscling defenders and hanging on to make contested catches look routine. The former Panther no longer boasts the top-end speed he possessed in his heyday, but his game has aged well thanks to his excellent hands and refined route running.
Smith will probably end the year with numbers slightly below what Anquan Boldin put up for the Ravens:
A realistic prediction is that Smith will end his first season in Baltimore with stats that are similar to his 2013 numbers but, as ESPN.com’s David Newton points out, his impact will go far beyond the numbers:
I can easily see him with 60 to 70 catches for 700 to 800 yards. But what Smith brings to the Ravens will go beyond catches. He'll make the running game better because he's a tenacious blocker. He'll draw coverage to free up the other wide receivers and tight ends. And he'll bring an attitude that will demand that everybody on offense plays better.
Those numbers may be lower than you were expecting when you think of Steve Smith, but it’s important to remember that he is no longer a primary receiver. He’s not being paid like one, and he is fully aware of his place with the Ravens based on what he told Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com:
I don’t see myself in Coach Kubiak’s system like [Texans wide receiver] Andre Johnson. I see the complementary dude of [former Texans wide receiver] Kevin Walter. I see how he contributed and how he was instrumental in getting Andre the ball but also getting his own opportunities.
With the addition of Smith there is no primary receiver, but three go-to targets for Flacco to exploit based on what the defense is giving him. Torrey Smith will be the deep threat, Dennis Pitta will work the middle of the field and Steve Smith will do a little bit of everything.
Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak likes to spread the ball around, so none of the receivers are going to wow you with their numbers, but Steve Smith in particular will probably fall below Torrey Smith and Pitta in Flacco’s pecking order.
But just like it was with Boldin, Smith’s number of catches won’t be as important as when he makes those catches. Smith’s career has consisted of him making clutch plays on third down and at the end of games, and it’s safe to expect that to continue in Baltimore.
Furthermore, Smith will add a dose of confidence, swagger and leadership to the locker room—a fact that can’t be understated for the young receivers on the roster.
Smith isn’t going to be the Pro Bowl player that he was for so many years in Carolina, but he will be a tremendous addition for the offense and for Joe Flacco.
General manager Ozzie Newsome has once again added a proven player that fits right into the roster—both on the field and in the locker room—and all for a reasonable price and a contract that is very favorable for the organization.
The Wizard of Oz strikes again.
Shehan Peiris is B/R's Lead Featured Columnist covering the Baltimore Ravens and a co-host of Ravens Central Radio, a weekly podcast on the Pro Football Central radio network that focuses on all things Ravens-related. For breaking news, roster evaluation, draft analysis and links to the latest episodes of Ravens Central Radio, follow me on Twitter: