Decision time: Smith vs. Smith
Panthers Steve Smith had two 100-yard games in '09 after eight such games in '08
Giants' Steve Smith had fourth-most catches in NFL in '09 and most in team history
Both Smiths recovering from offseason injuries, both expected back for Week 1
After shouting Steve Smith's name in the third round of my fantasy football draft last year, I heard a predictable joke from a fellow owner: "Which one?"
At the time, the only Smith worth taking that early was the Carolina Panthers' dominating receiver, who in '08 had amassed 1,421 yards on 78 receptions with six touchdowns. Nobody was paying attention to the other Steve Smith, the New York Giants receiver in his third season out of USC with only 65 career receptions.
Looking back, I really wish I had taken the other Smith. I wouldn't have been stuck with Carolina's dull version (65 receptions, 982 yards and seven TDs). I would have been showing off New York's shinier brand (107 receptions, 1,220 yards and seven TDs).
To avoid such complication, perhaps athletes should behave like actors and change their names early in their careers to distinguish themselves. Did you know Michael Keaton was born Michael Douglas? Or that Michael J. Fox added a "J" in his title even though his middle name is Andrew? My favorite name swap was by Albert Brooks, who simply didn't want to compete with theoretical physicist Albert Einstein.
The younger Smith needs a pseudonym. He could go by "The Giant", even though he's only 5-foot-11, or "The Nice One," since he's not the one who punched his teammate in the face (that's the Panthers hothead). Don't confuse either Smith with 14-year NBA veteran Steven Delano Smith or media mouth Steven A. Smith, who can certainly talk about sports but won't help your fantasy football team.
Going into this year's draft, that old quip is now a serious question: which Steve Smith do you want?
Let's first analyze the Panthers receiver, who is coming off a subpar '09 season. Smith only cracked the 100-yard marker twice last year compared to eight times in '08 and he didn't find the end zone until Week 8. His best game was in Week 15 when he had nine receptions for 157 yards and a TD against Minnesota. Yet his season abruptly ended after he broke his left arm a week prior to the finale.
Now in his 10th season, the 31-year old Smith doesn't have his usual gunslinger, Jake Delhomme, who was exiled to Cleveland. Matt Moore has the gig for now, but he's got rookie Jimmy Clausen impatiently waiting in line. Smith and Moore had some chemistry as Moore started the last five games of '09, finding Smith for three TDs. Still, a shaky quarterback situation is not a good story for a receiver.
The Giants' Smith was a huge surprise last year given his humble origins. He contributed sparsely as a rookie for the '07 Super Bowl squad but led the team in receptions (57) in '08 despite starting only four games. After Plaxico Burress' gun incident at a night club, Smith took over as the top receiving option. Still, fantasy owners didn't give him much love. His average draft position in '09 was 143.2 according to fantasyfootballcalculator.com while fellow receiver Hakeem Nicks went 126.1 (the other Smith went 21.4).
More people took notice of Smith after Week 2, when he grabbed 10 receptions for 134 yards and a score at Dallas. Two weeks later, he had 11 receptions for 134 yards and two TDs at Kansas City. Suddenly, the Giants were no longer a run-heavy offense led by Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. They were in a passing frenzy, with quarterback Eli Manning and Smith as the leaders. Smith finished with the fourth most receptions in the league (107) and the most in team history.
Both Smiths have a lot in common besides being NFL receivers. They both are nursing preseason injuries -- the Giants' Smith has a groin injury while the Panthers' Smith suffered another broken arm in June while playing flag football. Both are expected to be ready for the season opener, which ironically is against one another. Also, both would make solid No. 2 receivers on your fantasy team.
However, if I had a choice, I would take the younger, less volatile receiver with a stable quarterback. Just to clarify, that would be Steve Smith of the New York Giants.