Eisenberg: Ravens Should Invest More At Receiver Position, Even If Steve Smith Returns


Steve Smith Sr. had barely left the field with a torn Achilles tendon Sunday when talk started circulating about his wanting to backtrack on his pending retirement and play another season.

It just made sense. Smith was playing so well. He has another year left on his contract. The Ravens' disappointing 2015 season was no way to go out. And given Smith's competitive nature, he surely didn't want to end his career being dragged off the field with a towel draped over his head.

Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said after Sunday's game that he had "a feeling (Smith) will be back." CBS' Jason La Canfora reported Monday that Smith "intends to return."

He hasn't even had surgery yet, and a long rehab looms, but at this point, his return wouldn't be surprising.

It could be a positive development for the Ravens, who had grown used to thinking LAS (Life After Steve) would start after this season.

But even if Smith eventually does come back, the Ravens should pretend LAS is starting anyway. They should ignore Smith when penciling in their wide receiver plans for 2016.

It's not fair for them to count on his coming back and playing at the same, high level, as a No. 1-caliber receiver. No one doubts he will rehab ferociously, do all he can, if that's the route he chooses. But this is a major injury. Smith would be a 37-year-old coming off Achilles surgery in 2016. It's lovely to think he could pick right back up, and maybe he could, but no one should expect it, least of all the Ravens.

It's time to take the pressure off Smith.

If anything, the Ravens should treat his injury as a call-to-arms, a warning to surround quarterback Joe Flacco with more wide receiver weapons.

They didn't have enough this year. In fact, they haven't had enough for several years.

Since the Super Bowl, they've traded Anquan Boldin and let Torrey Smith depart, but they haven't restocked with enough guys of the same caliber. It's almost as if they believe they can surround Flacco with anyone and have a dangerous passing attack. They're ranked No. 27 in the league in salary cap dollars spent on receivers in 2015. But I think a bigger investment would make a difference.

Yes, they did sign Smith to a three-year, $11 million deal when he became available before the 2014 season. It was a nice move made largely because they saw how lacking they were at the position in 2013.

And yes, they did use their 2015 first-round draft pick to take a speedy receiver, Breshad Perriman, in an effort to improve offensive explosiveness.

But Perriman, who hasn't played since suffering a sprained MCL in training camp, and Torrey Smith are the only receivers the Ravens have taken with high draft picks since Harbaugh became the head coach in 2008.

Since then, when picking in the draft's top 100 slots, they've selected five linebackers, five defensive backs, five offensive linemen, five defensive linemen, three tight ends and two running backs, ensuring new generations bubble up at those positions. But instead of taking receivers with top selections, they've tried to bolster the position with late-round picks.

Since 2008, they've drafted two receivers in the fourth round, one in the fifth, two in the sixth and two in the seventh. None have worked out as well as Stefon Diggs, a Maryland native and 2015 fourth-round pick who has 25 catches for the Minnesota Vikings this year.

Granted, injuries wrecked the Ravens' plans at receiver this year, with Perriman out and Smith due to become the third receiver on injured reserve, joining Michael Campanaro and Darren Waller. GM Ozzie Newsome has done a nice job of locating useful fill-ins such as Kamar Aiken and Chris Givens, who will be cast as leading men for the rest of 2015, but ideally, are more role players.

The Ravens need more receivers who exude danger, scare defensive backs and bring explosiveness to the offense, like Steve Smith. As Flacco said recently, it's tough for an offense to consistently produce when it always has to drive bit-by-bit rather than in chunks.

I'm probably getting ahead of things, but the Ravens could stand to invest in a productive veteran free agent receiver this offseason, and also spend a top-100 pick on a young gun who could potentially contribute right away. Between that infusion and Perriman's hoped-for return, the receiving corps could give Flacco more to work with in 2016. Then, if Smith did return, he's like icing on the cake.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content