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The Rise and Fall of Steve Smith: Fantasy Clicks

Recent Fantasy Clicks 8-5-08: Rise & Fall of Steve Smith 8-4-08: Breaking down the Favre saga 8-1-08: Manny's Hollywood close-up 7-31-08: Contemplating a blockbuster 7-30-08: Trading places 7-29-08: Is 29 the New 40? 7-28-08: The Real Playoff Horses 7-25-08: All-Undervalued Team 7-24-08: Running to nowhere 7-23-08: A threat on the NBA's horizon 7-22-08: Escape from New York 7-21-08: Breaking Down Vlad, Lee and Crawford 7-18-08: Beware of the Curse of the HR Derby 7-17-08: Best advice for season's second half 7-16-08: Biggest fantasy busts of 2008

The Rise & Fall Of Steve Smith

Steve Smith: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Even before Steve Smith went loco on teammate Ken Lucas last week -- re-arranging the cornerback's face and earning a two-game suspension -- the Panthers wide receiver was in the middle of a precipitous decline on many fantasy draft boards. Just two summers ago, on the heels of a 103-catch, 1,563-yard, 12-TD season in 2005, Smith was the undisputed kingpin pass-catcher in fantasyland, a sure-fire top-10 pick. But now, at the tender (old?) age of 29 and with suspension in tow, some fantasy experts are seriously questioning Smith's capacity to crack the top 40 in standard leagues. But not me (to borrow a song quote from Peter Gabriel) ... I'm smarter than that. In fact, I highly recommend stealing Smith on Draft Day, anytime after the 32nd pick overall.

My reasons for trusting Smith again are five-fold:
1. Jake Delhomme is back ... and with a new elbow.
2. Smith racked up 15 catches (on 24 targets), 271 yards and four TDs in his only two full games with Delhomme under center in '07.
3. Even without Delhomme for much of last year, Smith still caught 87 passes for 1,002 yards.
4. Carolina's improved offensive balance (drafting RB Jonathan Stewart and signing WRs Muhsin Muhammad and D.J. Hackett) will mean zero double-teams for Smith.
5. Smith lucked out by missing games against the Chargers and Bears in Weeks 1 and 2 -- but he gets two shots against Atlanta and New Orleans and one shot against the Chiefs, Cardinals, Raiders and Lions. Cha-ching!

Five Things To Look For On Thursday

1. New York Giants @ Detroit: Is Steve Smith (not the Panthers' brawler) finally ready to be the team's No. 2 receiver -- or even the No. 1 guy if/when Plaxico Burress is sidelined?
2. Kansas City @ Chicago: Does rookie RB Matt Forte need a minimum number of preseason touches, in Bears coach Lovie Smith's mind, before earning the starting role for Week 1 against the Colts?
3. New York Jets @ Cleveland: For fantasy purposes, does it really matter which QB -- Chad Pennington or Kellen Clemens -- actually wins the starter's job? Does Clemens really have a markedly higher ceiling than Pennington?
4. Baltimore @ New England: I know it's preseason, but will the Ravens deploy any of the defensive tactics used by the Giants in the Super Bowl against the high-powered Pats?
5. New Orleans @ Arizona: Who will win the heated competition at power running back -- Saints fan favorite Deuce McAllister or Pierre Thomas, who surpassed 100 rushing and 100 receiving yards in last year's season finale?

Understanding ADP, Part Deux

Since this is an election year, it's only fitting that we balance Monday's "Understanding ADP" discussion featuring quarterbacks with a similar look at ... wide receivers. Using the same model from Antsports, SI.com has researched all the "Normal Mock Drafts" from July 13 to Aug. 3, enabling fantasy owners to project the range a certain pass-catcher would be drafted -- thus taking the guesswork out of the process and eliminating the need to reach for someone come Draft Day. Here are the top 20 WRs from that survey:

Trivia Time

Which Bengals tight end holds the club's single-season record for catches? (Hint: He scored a touchdown for Cincinnati in Super Bowl XVI.) Scroll down for the answer.

Food For Thought

Antonio Cromartie: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

If you absolutely, positively must take a defense early on Draft Day (and by "early," I mean sixth round), then your pick absolutely, positively has to be the San Diego Chargers (or the Baltimore Ravens, a round or two later). The Chargers defense is loaded with young, versatile, athletic playmakers and the special teams -- led by Antonio Cromartie (above) and Darren Sproles -- has few peers, as well. But what are the national pundits saying? Fanball.com's current preview magazine (an absolute must-read) has the following defense-only projections:

Trivia Answer

Dan Ross (71 catches in 1981) scored not one, but two touchdowns for the Bengals in their 26-21 loss to the 49ers in Super Bowl XVI -- still the highest-rated Super Bowl in TV history, in terms of percentage of homes watching (49.1).

Speaking Of Dan Ross ...

He may currently own the Bengals' single-season records for tight ends (71 catches and 910 yards), but I predict that Ben Utecht, a free-agent signee, will eclipse Ross's marks in both categories this season (although Bob Trumpy's record of nine touchdowns is probably safe). Utecht, a fourth-year pro, was probably the NFL's best backup tight end with Indianapolis. And now, with Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh battling injuries (not to mention Chris Henry's exodus from the team), the door is wide open for Utecht to become one of Carson Palmer's trusted security blankets -- especially in the red zone.

Clayton, We Hardly Knew Ye

Switching gears to baseball ... is there a more fruitless fantasy task than trying to predict exactly when a stud minor-league pitcher will become a consistent performer in the majors? Should the kid in question have a baseline of 500 professional innings? Should he be at least 24 years old? Or, should the supposed phenom have total command of at least three "out" pitches before entering the bigs? This week's winner of the "Ian Kennedy ... What Was I Thinking? Award" goes to White Sox farmhand Clayton Richard (not to be confused with Dodgers wunderkind Clayton Kershaw).

At 24, Richard seemingly possesses all the qualities prized by the superficial fantasy geek: He's a 6-foot-5 lefty, he's dominated at the Double-A level (to the tune of a 29/4 K-to-BB ratio since June 12) and he would likely get major run support from the potent White Sox hitters. And yet, in his three MLB starts (lasting only 13 innings), Richard surrendered 15 earned runs and 25 hits, while contributing to Chicago's freefall out of first place in the AL Central. Needless to say, I dropped Richard -- even before he was sent back to the minors -- and picked up the ultra-reliable Jesse Carlson to fill out my AL-only roster. The lesson here: Stay away from rookie pitchers at all times -- even if their minor-league dominance rivals that of Mr. Kennedy.