Despite hitting the age of 35, the expectations for Baltimore Ravens receiver Steve Smith are still high going into the 2014 NFL season. Part of that's because Smith has caught 64 or more passes in eight of the past nine seasons.
The former Carolina Panthers receiver has had a career that may put him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday. Smith is the Panthers' all-time leader in catches (836), receiving yards (12,197) and touchdowns (67), and he ranks 19th in NFL history in receptions.
After the Panthers cut him this offseason, the Ravens were the first team Smith visited before signing a three-year, $11 million deal with them.
Signing Smith immediately upgraded what was a very thin group of Ravens receivers.
Outside of Torrey Smith, no other Baltimore receiver had more than 524 receiving yards in 2013. Ravens receivers also only caught 19 touchdowns, and 11 of them were between Torrey and Marlon Brown.
Looking at Steve Smith's 2013 numbers (745 yards and four TDs), it's easy to think he'll upgrade that position and become another weapon for quarterback Joe Flacco to rely on.
ESPN Panthers reporter David Newton believes Smith will put up good numbers this year, but said his biggest impact will be what he provides from a leadership standpoint:
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 end. And he'll bring an attitude that will demand that everybody on offense plays better.
Ravens players have echoed those sentiments. In Ravens OTAs, Smith was was one of the hardest workers on the field. That showed his teammates how a potential Hall of Famer carries himself. Torrey Smith had this to say, via the Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson:
You can definitely see the fire. I've known Steve for a couple of years now, but to actually play with him and see the way he works, he takes everything serious. He's very passionate. I guess if you're not used to a guy who's passionate about his job, it comes off as raunchy, but it fits here. There are plenty of guys like that here. He's perfect for us, and we're glad he's here.
As for Steve's expectations of himself this year, he's already said 1,000 yards receiving isn't out of the question.
“To get 1,000 yards, I don’t think it’s impossible,” Smith said, via The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. “But for me to get 1,000 yards, Torrey to get 1,000 yards and Ray Rice to get 1,000 yards and maybe Jacoby and whatever wide receivers, I think it’s doable."
It's hard to see the 35-year-old Smith cracking 1,000 yards this year, especially with the Ravens' other receiving options.
The Ravens were able to re-sign Pro Bowl tight end Dennis Pitta and then signed Owen Daniels in free agency. Pitta missed most of last year with a hip injury, but in 2012, he caught 61 passes for 669 yards (11.0 yards per catch) and seven touchdowns.
Daniels had eight good years with the Houston Texans, where he caught 385 balls for 4,617 yards and 29 touchdowns. Those two are going to draw a lot of targets in new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak's offense.
According to Larry Hartstein of CBSSports.com, Houston quarterbacks "targeted tight ends an average of 171 times the past two years under Kubiak," compared to 128 by Baltimore's QBs.
Then there's Torrey Smith. The 25-year-old receiver is in his prime and coming off a career-high 65 catches for 1,128 yards and four touchdowns in 2013. He's going to be the No. 1 option in this offense.
There's also second-year receiver Marlon Brown. After signing with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent out of Georgia, Brown caught 49 passes for 524 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns in 2013.
In Year 2, he figures to put up even better numbers. Pro Football Focus even tabbed Brown as its Ravens secret superstar for 2014.
In the end, there's just too many targets for Flacco to throw to, and that will lead to a drop in production from Steve. Expect him to be Flacco's No. 4 option behind Torrey, Brown and Pitta.
He's not going to come in and become a go-to weapon in the passing game.However, he will provide a leadership role and a strong voice to a team that doesn't have many vocal leaders on offense.
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