Steve Smith's biggest battle is with history

June, 3, 2014
Jun 3
7:30
AM ET
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Steve Smith pointed squarely at his critics when asked what motivates the Baltimore Ravens wide receiver.

"Obviously [the media] always seems to have something to say, have a comment," Smith said after an offseason practice. "So, I love to read those and like to serve a little humble pie to you once I do a little bit compared to what you think.”

To be honest, it's difficult to find many Smith haters these days. Try Googling "Steve Smith and criticism" or "bad signing" and nothing really pops up about him being past his prime.

Smith's bigger battle is with history. Not many NFL wide receivers have been productive once they hit the age of 35. Before Smith starts cutting me a slice of humble pie, this isn't to suggest that Smith will be a failure in Baltimore.

[+] EnlargeSmith
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsRavens coach John Harbaugh says wide receiver Steve Smith is "our kind of guy in a lot of ways."
In fact, the signing of Smith has been praised on the Ravens' team page. But the numbers suggest that it's rare for older receivers to make a big impact in the league. By the way, Smith turned 35 three weeks ago.

Here are some facts provided by ESPN Stats & Info:

  • Since 2001, only five wide receivers have caught at least 70 passes after turning 35: Oakland's Jerry Rice, Denver's Rod Smith, the Ravens' Derrick Mason, Cincinnati's Terrell Owens and San Diego's Keenan McCardell.
  • Over that same span, only four have produced a 1,000-yard receiving season after turning 35: Rice, Rod Smith, Mason and Tampa Bay's Joey Galloway.
  • Only one wide receiver 35 or older caught a pass last season: the Ravens' Brandon Stokley, who finished with 13.

Smith was a model of consistency with the Carolina Panthers. Over the past nine seasons, he has caught more than 70 passes in six seasons and put together six 1,000-yard seasons.

There could be concern that Smith is on the decline after last season, when he managed 64 catches for 745 yards receiving. Both were his lowest totals since 2010.

Smith's season wouldn't be considered a disaster if he failed to reach 70 catches and 1,000 yards receiving. The Ravens won't have to rely heavily on Smith because they have emerging young receivers who can stretch the field (Torrey Smith) and score in the red zone (Marlon Brown).

The Ravens signed Smith to a three-year, $11.5 million deal as much for his intangibles as his stats.

"I think he fits in," coach John Harbaugh said. "He’s our kind of guy in a lot of ways. I like the competitor. I like the fire in him –- the toughness. But I also think he’s a really good player. And I'll say this: Watching him out at practice, he’s still a really good player. There’s no doubt. He’s going to help us a lot."

The Ravens have a history of getting productive seasons out of players they signed who were older than 30: Rod Woodson, Shannon Sharpe, Steve McNair, Trevor Pryce, Daryl Smith and Mason.

Smith is like those players in terms of their professionalism and competitiveness. He is known for hating to take any reps off in practice. He hasn't even had time to get dinner with quarterback Joe Flacco because he's too busy with the playbook.

"Like last night, I know guys were watching the basketball game; the basketball game was watching me," Smith said. "I fell asleep studying, woke up studying, and got here [to the Ravens' facility]."

There will never be any concern about Smith's work ethic or finding a source of motivation for him.

"The [defensive back] that’s going to be sitting in front of me, he’s going to find out how much I have left in the tank," Smith said, "and he’ll find out real quick.”

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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