To Tony Softli, Steve Smith was a difference-maker at wide receiver 13 years ago. And to Softli, Smith is still a difference-maker even more than a decade later.
Softli was the Carolina Panthers’ director of college scouting when the Panthers selected Smith in the third round of the 2001 NFL draft.
Softli left Carolina in 2006, but he has kept up with Smith while serving as the St. Louis Rams’ vice president of player personnel and more recently as an NFL analyst for 101 ESPN in St. Louis.
He watched Smith play as recently as last season. And while Smith will be 35 in May, Softli thinks Smith can still impact football games, especially for a team like the Baltimore Ravens.
One of the Ravens’ top priorities coming into the offseason was to add a pass-catcher that can consistently make tough catches in critical situations. They feel like addressed that by signing Smith last week. Softli agrees.
“No question,” Softli said. “You’re talking about third-and-5, third-and-6, third-and-7, that’s what type of receiver he is. … The one thing you’re going to be able to see is that he’s going to compete at a high level above the [defensive backs].
“He can still go up and get it. And I think that’s really one of the reasons that they went and got him, plus what he does away from the football and what he does blocking-wise. He’s a complete football player, a complete wide receiver. It’s still fun to watch him from afar.”
Smith’s numbers were down last season, but he did still lead Panthers wide receivers in both catches (64) and yards (745).
He was also selected to the Pro Bowl as recently as 2011 and had 73 catches for 1,174 yards in 2012 while averaging more than 16 yards per catch.
“I think he’s lost a step, and that just comes with age. That’s just a natural progression as you get older. A guy can get a little slower. … [But] I wouldn’t say it’s significant,” Softli said. “I would just say that he’s got that sneaky speed now, whereas before he would just run right by you.