Daily Focus: Can Steve Smith be a top-10 receiver again in 2016?

Analyst Matt Claassen discusses the return of WRs Steve Smith and Jordy Nelson, as well as the suspension of K Josh Brown.

| 10 months ago
Steve Smith

(Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)

Daily Focus: Can Steve Smith be a top-10 receiver again in 2016?

Editor’s note: Every day in “Daily Focus,” PFF analysts take the latest NFL news and translate what it really means for each team involved.

What does return of Steve Smith mean for Baltimore receiving corps? Ravens’ WR Steve Smith was activated from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list on Wednesday, indicating that he could be ready to practice soon. We’ve seen many wide receivers decline once they reach their late-30s, but Smith’s performance has been the complete opposite. Prior to his Achilles injury last season, Smith had the fourth-highest receiving grade among NFL WRs, and was on pace to earn his highest overall and receiving grades in the 10 years of PFF grading. His 2.84 yards per route run were also the highest of any offensive player in the league during 2015. The 37-year-old remains one of the most elusive receivers after the catch, forcing 12 missed tackles on 46 receptions. In 2014, Smith tied for the NFL lead among wide receivers with 20 missed tackles forced after the catch, and did so on 20 fewer receptions than the other leader, Golden Tate.

It remains to be seen how Smith will bounce back from the Achilles injury. If he is still anything like the player we have seen in recent years since his arrival in Baltimore, it should be a boost for the Ravens’ receiving corps, particularly as last year’s first-round draft pick Breshad Perriman’s status is still unknown for 2016. After Smith’s injury in Week 8, Kamar Aiken was the only Ravens wide receiver to earn an above-average grade over the final nine weeks of the season.

Impact of Jordy Nelson return in Green Bay: Packers’ wide receiver Jordy Nelson was also activated from the PUP list after tearing his ACL last preseason and missing all of 2015. That’s great news for the Packers; his absence last year was obvious when it came to the offense’s performance. In his last season on the field (2014), Nelson had the second-highest overall grade among wide receivers behind only Antonio Brown, and purely as a pass-catcher, had the fifth-best grade. When Nelson was targeted, QB Aaron Rodgers had a 128.2 passer rating, the third-highest rating among QB-WR combinations in the league. Nelson also ranked seventh in yards per route run and second in yards on deep passes (targeted 20+ yard downfield). His return should also have a positive impact for Rodgers, who dropped from the top-graded QB in 2014 to 12th last year.

Nelson could make all the Packers better

Jordy Nelson’s return should be good for he and Aaron Rodgers, but Mike Tagliere thinks all of the Packers should see a boost.

See the fantasy WRs broken down in tiers

Giants need to shop for new kicker: New York Giants kicker Josh Brown has been suspended one game due to a violation of the league’s personal conduct policy. What, if any, effect does this news have on the Giants? Brown was the sixth-highest graded placekicker on field goals and extra points last season, and his 93.8 field goal percentage was tied for the league lead. He was perfect on kicks under 40 yards and 50+, with his only two misses coming from 48 yards. He missed one extra point during the NFL’s first year of the new rule, but the rest of the league combined for another 70 misses, so the one miss on 45 attempts was still above-average. The other kicker currently on the Giants’ roster is Tom Obarski, who has not attempted a regular-season field goal in his career, nor one yet this preseason. During last year’s preseason, Obarski missed 27- and 30-yard field goals with Cincinnati. Brown’s suspension could have an impact in that game, but the Giants still have a few weeks to make a decision on who they want in his place with veteran free-agent kickers also available.

| Analyst

Matt has been an analyst for PFF since 2013. He is also a contributor to 120 Sports and a former NCAA Division-III football player.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Jordy Nelson should rebound and have a positive impact for the Packers but Steve Smith is running on fumes and probably retires after this season. The Ravens will give him his shot at reaching the 1000 career reception mark (he is currently 39 short) but they will be relying on the young guys to carry the load.

    • Flacco is Not Elite

      Unfortunately, they’re young receivers are pretty bad (outside of Aiken, who’s solid but hardly a number 1)

      • Flacco is Not Elite

        Before a grammar nazi kills me, *their

      • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

        aiken graded out as top 20 WR for PFF in 2015

  • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

    i wouldn’t bet my own money against steve smith

  • Paul warned me

    So I thought this was an article discussing ‘can steve smith be a top 10 receiver again in 2016?’ Or even ‘what does the return of steve smith mean for the ravens?’ But it really just established that SS was good before his injury. That’s not exactly insightful- I don’t think at least? Maybe something about scheme or an update on Smith’s progress or stats on people coming back from Achilles would’ve been helpful.. trying to be constructive in my critique here. Thanks for reading

    • crosseyedlemon

      I think it’s a given that coming back from any kind of injury for players of Smith’s age is a longshot. That is why teams usually sign someone else as an insurance policy.