Head coach Sean Payton suggested Smith is primed to "take a big step in his development", The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports.
It's probably just coachspeak, but the Saints have yet to add a receiver this offseason save for tight end Jared Cook. The 2018 third-round pick put together a solid rookie campaign, tallying 28 receptions and 427 receiving yards along with five touchdowns, proving to be a viable red-zone threat when Drew Brees and company took to the air (Smith was second behind Michael Thomas in receiving touchdowns). It's quite possible Smith could wind up jumping Tedd Gin Jr. on the depth chart depending on how the former improves during his first full offseason, but that'll depend largely on how the Saints choose to build out their receiving corps in the coming months.
Smith, who caught three passes for 30 yards and a touchdown in the meaningless season finale, finished the season with 28 receptions on 44 targets for 427 yards and five touchdowns in 15 games in 2018.
At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Smith's intriguing combination of speed and size led to him being drafted by the Saints in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Playing behind Ted Ginn Jr. to begin the season, the rookie receiver was quiet the first few games. But, after Ginn succumbed to a knee injury, Smith broke out on the national stage in Week 5, scoring twice on Monday Night Football as quarterback Drew Brees became the NFL's all-time leader in passing yards. With Ginn on injured reserve, Smith started most of the games thereafter, but only once had more than three catches in a game -- the exception beinb a 10-catch, 157-yard outburst in Week 11. With Ginn again healthy, Smith will likely see his role reduced in the playoffs, but despite his up-and-down season, Smith is expected to be a huge part of the Saints' future receiving corps.
Smith expects to handle a sizable workload Sunday against Carolina, Josh Katzenstein of The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports. "With Ted [Ginn] being down this week, I'm going to be taking the majority of the load," Smith said after Friday's practice.
Smith's comment provides a strong hint that the Saints plan to rest Ginn, not to mention top target Michael Thomas and star running back Alvin Kamara. With Teddy Bridgewater already confirmed as the starter, it makes sense for players like Smith, Keith Kirkwood and RB Dwayne Washington to get most of the snaps while the team's starters get some rest before the playoffs. The rookie third-round pick made some noise during the middle part of the season, but he's caught just three passes in four games since his 10-catch, 157-yard explosion against the Eagles in Week 11.
Smith caught his lone target to total 11 yards in Sunday's 31-28 win over the Steelers.
Smith's disappointing second half continued as he commanded only one target for the third time in four weeks. The return of Ted Ginn only loosens Smith's hold on his role in the offense, making it likely he concludes his rookie campaign in a disappointing manner. That said, he showed plenty of potential thought the season, with his performance spiking in Weeks 5 and 11 when he topped 100 yards and also found the end zone. Now that the Saints have locked up the top seed in the NFC, Smith's potential in Week 17 will likely be reliant on his role as well as the usage of target-hog Michael Thomas.
Smith caught two of four targets for 15 yards during Monday's 12-9 win over Carolina.
The outing snapped a two-game catchless streak for Smith, but it probably wasn't the rebound fans were hoping for. The issues aren't just with Smith. The Saints have not been the same team since Week 12's beatdown of the Eagles -- with a 10-point outing against Dallas in Week 13 and Sunday's uneven performance. The stage is set for the rookie to have a prominent role opposite Michael Thomas, but the Saints need to figure it out and soon before a Steelers team riding a big win over the Patriots comes Sunday.
|2018||New Orleans Saints||15||7||28||427||15.3||62||5||6||1||23|
|2018||New Orleans Saints||15||1||1.0||0||0||0||0||0.0||0||0||0|