Let’s rewind to June, when I said that Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith’s career was on the upswing and that the Ravens should lock him up with a long-term deal.
At the time, keeping Smith seemed like a priority. He was a player who showed steady improvement each of his first three seasons in the NFL, and at just 25, he was entering the prime of his athletic career. So odds were that things would only improve after a strong 2013 season.
During a poor year overall for the Ravens offense, Smith’s 2013 campaign saw him haul in 65 catches for 17.4 yards per reception and four touchdowns.
Fast forward to today and Smith is not exactly the sure thing he seemed to be after last season.
Prior to the start of the 2014 season the general consensus in regards to re-signing Smith seemed to be, “Why not?” He was generally considered to be a good player who had shown improvement and solidified his status as a high-end No. 2 receiver for the Ravens.
Now? Chances are that not many would be so quick to say the Ravens should re-sign Smith, who is an unrestricted free agent after this season.
Many soon-to-be free agents thrive in “contract” years, giving one last display of their skill set before cashing in during free agency. Conventional wisdom would have led us to believe that 2014 would have been Smith’s best year of his career, since he was coming off an impressive 2013 season and was one season away from free agency.
But with one game left in the 2014 regular season, it is safe to say this certainly has not been Smith’s best season.
To his credit Smith does have a career-high 10 touchdown receptions. But that doesn’t excuse the overall drop in productivity.
Statistically, Smith may finish with the lowest catch total of his career, as he enters Week 17 with 45 receptions, four lower than his career low of 49 in 2012. The big play factor has been tempered for Smith, too, as his 15.2 yards per reception is well below his career low of 16.8 in 2011, his rookie season.
The advanced stats certainly do not help Smith’s cause, either. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Smith has caught just 54.9% of his targets, has 10 drops and six of quarterback Joe Flacco’s 12 interceptions have occurred when throwing to Smith. Ouch!
There is no stat to track how many times a player falls down, but if there was, it is a good bet that number would be pretty high for Smith as well.
Sure, he had a late-season knee injury which kept him mostly out of the Miami game and slowed him down, but that certainly does not discount his struggles the rest of the year.
Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans had a bit of everything from Smith. His mistakes and positive plays were essentially a perfect sample of what his whole season has been.
Let’s start with drops, one of Smith’s biggest problems this season.
Here, Smith beats the cornerback on the inside (Smith is called for a questionable offensive pass interference on the play, but that’s beside the point).
The ball hits Smith right in his hands.
Unfortunately for Flacco, his on-target pass is all for naught as Smith is unable to haul in an easy catch in perfect position.
The fact that the reception would have been negated by penalty is irrelevant. What is relevant is that Smith’s drop here is similar to many of his drops this season: easy catches right on target that Smith simply fails to catch.
When Smith entered the NFL, he was a fairly raw product with questionable hands. But each season, he became a more dependable and sure-handed receiver.
This season? Not so much.
Another issue Smith has dealt with all season has been poor footwork which ultimately puts pressure on Joe Flacco. It would certainly be understandable, given Smith’s tendencies to fall or run sloppy routes open things up for the secondary, if Flacco is now more hesitant to throw to the wide receiver even when he’s open.
On Sunday, one of Flacco’s three interceptions came as a result of Smith slipping out of his route.
He receives a good cushion from the defender and cuts to the middle of the field.
At the point which Flacco locks in on Smith and readies to throw, the play has the makings of an easy pitch-and-catch.
Flacco had a terrible game against Houston, but here, it is hard to blame anyone but Smith for the interception.
When this is the end result, it is not a good sign:
Slipping on occasion is fine for wide receivers; it happens. But with Smith the regularity is alarming.
And to give him a hefty contract would be even more alarming.
Watch closely today. It could be the last you see of No. 82 in a Ravens uniform, a potential reality that even Smith is aware of.
“As bad as it is not going to the playoffs, that’s a horrible feeling knowing that it’s a possibility that I might not be here next year,” Smith said. “But I’m not really worried about that. I’m trying to win this game and see what happens.”