By Vidur Malik
The Carolina Panthers became a talking point in the 2011 season thanks to the play of quarterback
Cam Newton. In his rookie season, Newton put up fantastic numbers and showed the potential to be an elite-level quarterback.
Another important storyline for the Panthers last season was the production they got from wide receiver Steve
Smith. Smith was considered one of the league’s best receivers in the mid- and late-2000’s, but saw his numbers fall significantly in the 2010 season. After catching 46 passes for 554 yards and two touchdowns in 14 games in the 2010 season, Smith caught 79 passes for 1,394 yards and seven touchdowns in 16 games in 2011. He returned to elite status and was fifth in the NFL in receiving yardage. With Newton at quarterback, Smith should be able to continue playing at a high level. The three-year contract extension he signed earlier in the offseason shows he will be a crucial part of the Panthers’ offense for at least the next few years.
’s arm strength should help Smith remain a big-play threat as he enters his 12th season. Smith averaged 17.6 yards per catch last season, the second-highest total for his career in that category. Look for Smith to continue making plays over the top of the defense. He can also make plays on short-yardage routes, and his trademark toughness allows him to break tackles and gain extra yards.
Smith is not the only play-making receiver on the Panthers, which should prevent him from seeing too many double-teams. Receiver
Brandon LaFell was the Panthers’ second-leading receiver in terms of yardage with 613 yards and tight end Greg Olsen made a solid contribution with 540 yards and five touchdowns. With these weapons to throw to, Newton should continue putting up top-level numbers, as should Smith.
5-foot-9 and 185 lbs., his lack of size might make fantasy owners hesitant about picking him, but Smith has played in at least 14 games in every season of his career, with the exception of his 2004 season, in which he broke his leg and played in only one game. He doesn’t score as many touchdowns as you would like from your No. 1 receiver, but he gets in the end zone enough to get you points and he can complement those scores by putting up high yardage totals. Players like Calvin Johnson and Wes Welker will get the attention and be the first receivers taken in drafts, so Smith should be available for you to select after the bigger-name guys are off the board.
Smith’s remaining years in the league should be very productive. With a quarterback like
Newton who showed great potential in his rookie season and the other players he has around him, Smith is a smart pick for this season.