Lee Smith is the first tight end on the Oakland Raiders’ depth chart, and it is for good reason. Let’s take a look at what he brings to the table for a stacked Raiders offense.
Lee Smith is the type of player that every team dreams of having, seriously. He is an absolute warrior on the field, and gives 110 percent every snap of every game. Once a relative unknown out of Marshall (Go Herd!) and fifth-round draft selection of the New England Patriots, Smith has come a long way.
Smith was cut by the Pats before the 2011 NFL season even started, but was claimed on waivers by the Buffalo Bills the next day. It was in Buffalo that Smith really got his start, and put himself on the Raiders map. Originally, Smith was really only a blocking tight end. Despite establishing himself as a premier blocker, Smith never really got the respect he deserved. Now as a member of the Raider Nation, Smith is showered with praise for his play.
But what makes Smith so cherished by the Raiders? Is it his long beard or bubbling personality? Maybe it is his work ethic and effort on and off the field. Truthfully, it is both, combined with his talents as a blocker and his new emergence as a receiving threat.
Unfortunately, his season last year was ended prematurely after he suffered a broken leg in Week 4 against the Baltimore Ravens. Despite the lack of playing time last season, Smith has his spot on the roster locked up. His position among the Raiders offense is invaluable, as he is essentially an offensive lineman with decent hands.
While he wasn’t utilized very often in the passing game under Bill Musgrave, only compiling 18 receptions over his first two seasons, Smith was an integral part of the offense. His run blocking is exceptional, but his ability to catch the ball was undervalued. From brief action in the preseason, it seems new offensive coordinator Todd Downing may unlock Smith this season.
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Last night against the Los Angeles Rams, Smith reeled in two catches for 25 yards, one for a touchdown. For a tight end that is not typically involved in the passing game, that is pretty good. Perhaps this is the beginning of Downing really getting the most out of Smith and his abilities.
Multiple times throughout the night, the Raiders lined up in two tight end sets, with combinations of players. For most of last season, an extra lineman was utilized instead of the extra tight end. With Smith back and healthy, that adds a whole new dimension to an already scary talented offense.
This season we could see sets with Jared Cook and Smith, or even Smith and Clive Walford. This would be extremely confusing for defenses to deal with as it isn’t obvious whether the offense will run or pass out of these sets, especially if Smith really starts contributing as a receiver. With a two tight end set of Cook and Walford, it will likely point to a passing play, but with Smith in there, defenses can’t count out the run due to his blocking abilities.
While Smith is not going to put up 500 yards receiving this season, his presence will be felt. The Raiders are clearly very happy with their depth at tight end, and hopefully Downing will use them effectively. Downing has a versatile weapon in Smith, let’s see how he utilizes him throughout the season.