Debate Series: Steve Smith vs. Roddy White
by Tim Heaney
on August 26, 2009 @ 20:04:45
Typically, there's a group of midrange to low-end No. 1 receivers to choose from at the end of the second round or the top of the third in fantasy football snake drafts. KFFL's editors have been in this situation at some point this draft season, given that we typically wait to draft a No. 1 wideout until the second round. The aforementioned cluster includes the Carolina Panthers' Steve Smith and the Atlanta Falcons' Roddy White.
Coming off a career year, White offers another potential boom year with the maturation of second-year quarterback Matt Ryan. Though he has had a tumultuous offseason in each of the last two years (fistfight last year, injury this year), Smith remains an explosive deep threat. If you need to grab a No. 1 wideout after the top five or so are off the board, do you go with the veteran catcher with a bit of upside left, or another blossoming stud who is on the verge of high-level statistical consistency?
- The long-locked White has averaged 85.5 catches and 1,292 receiving yards in his last two NFL seasons. The best part: In '07, he caught 83 passes with a mixture of Joey Harrington, Chris Redman and Byron Leftwich at quarterback.
- He probably sent ownership a gift basket for drafting Ryan, who's better equipped to extract more out of the 6-foot, 212-pound White. In '08, White's yards-per-catch average increased to 15.7 from an already impressive 14.5 in '07.
- Matty Ice has room to improve in his second year under this system; he only threw 434 passes last season.
- Last campaign White topped 100 receiving yards seven times and snared at least five throws on 10 occasions, including an eight-game streak of the latter.
- Deep impact: White ranked sixth among all NFL wideouts with 18 catches of 20-plus yards last season. Playing with that bunch of throwaway quarterbacks in '07, White was tied for fifth with 19. He was also tied for 11th last year with four hauls that went for at least 40 hash marks.
- White, 27, has not missed a game since entering the NFL four years ago.
- White has not shown much rust after an eight-day contract holdout.
New Falcon Tony Gonzalez, arguably the best receiving tight end in NFL history, may decrease the coverage White faces. Gonzo will probably be more active in Atlanta's blocking game than he was with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Does Gonzo help or hurt White?
- New Falcon Tony Gonzalez, arguably the best receiving tight end in NFL history, probably will also take some targets away from White - especially in the red zone, where the Falcons already employ bowling-ball back Michael Turner frequently.
- Last year, White was targeted "only" 17 times inside the 20 (tied for 20th among receivers) and four times inside the 5 (knotted at 13th). Any further chance for decrease in this category causes concern, especially since for all his deep-play ability, five of White's seven scoring grabs came from within 22 yards in '08.
- The Falcons remain a run-first cast under offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey. While Ryan may be given more freedom to hurl the pigskin at times in his second season, it's a safer bet that Atlanta will continue to control the ball on the ground most of the time. White's YPC average may not have much more room to grow.
- White failed to cross the goal line from Week 11 to Week 16 last season. Will Atlanta once again present a more conservative (ahem, run-oriented) offense down the stretch if they're in a tight race for a playoff berth or homefield advantage?
- The Panthers' top target has registered at least 1,002 yards in five of the last six seasons; last year he rattled off 1,421 yards, the second-highest total in his career. Smith's average of 82.7 catches over the last three campaigns came following a 103-reception year in '05.
- Smith put up clutch numbers throughout the season; nine of his final 11 games resulted in 100-plus receiving yards, and he had 96 yards in the two contests before that streak started. He also totaled five-plus catches in 10 of his 14 games last year.
- Quarterback Jake Delhomme enters his second season removed from Tommy John surgery; he didn't have to spend the offseason rehabbing and should be more confident in his arm this season.
- Smith came in a tie for the 15th most looks by a wideout (138) despite missing two games because of a team suspension; he had 163 in 15 games the previous year.
- The 5-foot-9, 185-pound vet rattled off a career-best 18.2 yards per catch in '08, ranking fifth among wideouts with at least 30 catches. It may be more likely that Smith at least comes close to that average with Delhomme's arm rounding into form.
More reason to increase the air assault: Carolina's defense will play 2009 without defensive tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu (Achilles'), a key component, and there's speculation linebacker Jon Beason (knee) could fall in the same category. A weakened defense presumably means Carolina may be forced to catch up via Delhomme more often.
What will it take for Smith to play 16?
- Smith (shoulder), 30, is already banged up in camp. Not that he needs much practice, but he hasn't played a preseason down yet. He has not suited up for a full season since 2005 and played just one game in 2004. He's almost guaranteed to sit out a game or two, at minimum. Though last year he played 14 straight after a two-game suspension, he has dealt with lower-body dings in recent years.
- Smith's touchdown totals have declined since his 12-score 2005, with his six-pack last year following seasons of eight and seven; this can be heavily tied to the health of Delhomme, now 34, who missed 13 games in '07 and three contests in '06.
- Carolina doesn't exactly have a slouching backfield: DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart form one of the most dangerous ground tandems in the NFL. Rookie Mike Goodson may also factor in; Carolina may use him in the slot, but they now have another method of running to take away from the pass.
- Smith's 2008 yards-per-catch average vastly surpassed any other figure he has put up; this has fluctuated throughout the years. Is that prone to continue?
- Smith was used five times inside the 5, tied for ninth most in that receiver column. It's hard to count on Smith being employed often in the red zone (14 utilizations last year, tied for 31st among wideouts), though, what with the Will-Stew combo in full effect.
- Nitpicking: Though you can blame his two-game suspension, his reception total dwindled to 78 last year; it's hard to think he'll approach the 103 he had in '05. Will his reception and yardage numbers come closer to meeting in the middle?
Both are top-shelf big-play threats, but both receivers will probably find it tough to increase their red zone appointments.
White, being at his physical peak, hasn't presented any significant health problems yet and plays in a more well-versed offense. Smith doesn't have another elite pass catcher cutting into his workload, but instead he's competing for love with a prominent ground game.
The quarterback advantage goes to White, but a more free-dealing Delhomme returns some luster to a long-effective rapport.
Winner: If you want to go with upside, Smith has more room to improve his total catches (point-per-reception league alert). Gonzo's impact in Atlanta compounds the fact that White may have already met his statistical apex; it's merely a matter of sustaining it. We KFFL editors would be happy choosing either one, depending on the situation. If both are available, this writer would prefer White even with Gonzo in town; Smith has more factors that make him a riskier No. 1 fantasy receiver.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum competes in Tout Wars and LABR and has won several industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, hear him every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore. On Thursdays, he visits 106.1 FM WMTI in New Orleans and Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, where he often crashes other shows, as well.
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