The Ravens have made their mark on the 2014 Free Agency period by simply signing their own. By all accounts, priority #1 was Dennis Pitta (√) and priority #2 was Eugene Monroe (√). I’m of the opinion that signing your own is the best policy and, though not flashy, secures more future wins than making big splashes. With that said, the Ravens have been linked to Panthers WR Steve Smith, should he be released. Is this a good idea?
A 35-year-old wide receiver with a 5’9, 185lb frame is hardly the prototypical impact player that the Ravens need in their receiving corps. What Smith does bring, though, is a feisty attitude, route running expertise, and short-area quickness that can help the Ravens against press and zone coverages.
Steve Smith is the Isolation X receiver to Cam Newton’s right. Smith is running a simple corner route against the Saints’ Tampa-2 zone. CB Keenan Lewis will look to jam Smith and then sink to cushion any outside-breaking routes behind him.
Smith astutely recognizes Lewis’ attempt to press him and loops his route toward the middle of the field to pull Lewis away from his “flat” zone. Along the way, Smith swats down Lewis’ hands before breaking on his corner route.
At the top of Smith’s route, he understands that CB Lewis is now breaking on the Flat route by the running back (red). Smith then flattens his break toward the sideline to avoid being interrupted by the deep-half safety (orange). Smith is wide open but the pass goes to the other side of the field.
Steve Smith continually showed the ability to understand zone coverages. Smith was mostly a Z receiver that could move all over the formation but did some of his best work underneath between the numbers.
Although Smith excelled at finding voids in zone coverage, his remaining short-area quickness helped him in man-coverage as well:
New England’s best corner Aqib Talib is aligned in press against Smith. Rather than Smith running an isolation “out” route (dashed), Smith played off of Talib’s leverage to win against man coverage.
In Image #1, Talib has reacted to Smith’s inside stem. By Image #2, Smith has shed Talib’s attempted jam and is now forcing Talib to flip his hips and change direction. Image #3 shows Smith planting his foot to make an outside cut and Image #4 demonstrates the amount of separation he was able to achieve.
Steve Smith didn’t show consistent separation against man coverage due to his lack of straight line speed and partially due to his small stature. When Smith wasn’t able to evade defenders, he was too often overpowered by their relatively long reach. Smith was impressive though in working rub/pick combinations which freed him up in the middle of the field.
Should the Ravens bring him on?
Steve Smith is a far better player at age 35 than Brandon Stokley was last season. Smith offers a short area presence over the middle and can be a precision receiver which is coveted in the West Coast offense. Besides his ability on the field, Smith could team up with new wide receivers coach Bobby Engram to better develop route-running intricacies in the Ravens raw but talented group.
For these reasons, I would be in favor of bringing in Smith for a one year deal. My concern would be the perception of addressing this position and therefore moving WR down the priority list for the draft. There are many young and talented wide receivers in the draft who could develop into a cornerstone opposite Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown. Given the choice, I would prefer the Ravens select LSU’s Odell Beckham, a slightly larger (6’0, 185lbs) target who showed fantastic short-area burst in Cam Cameron’s pro-style offense. Someone like Beckham would contribute as a returner which Smith has not done for some time.
I’ll leave you with my favorite Steve Smith clip of all time:
Dan played high school football at Wilde Lake and graduated from McDaniel College with a degree in Psychology. Dan is currently a Maryland Terp working on his PhD degree in Neuroscience. He has experience writing published scientific material as well as blogging for SBNation via Baltimore Beatdown. Beginning in the 2012 season, Dan has been writing about the Ravens focusing on the X’s and O’s of the game of football with heavy use of overhead (All-22) film analysis. The Columbia, MD native currently lives in Silver Spring.