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How good is… LJ Smith?


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After my piece on Reggie Brown, I decided that from time to time I'll blog about just "how good" some of the Eagles' players are that aren't quite national names by stacking them up against their peers and giving you the facts about their performance. This time, let's give LJ Smith his day in the sun...

The Tight End position has had a resurgence in the NFL over the past few years and a playmaking TE has become an indispensable part of a winning team. There several great TEs in football, but the division most stocked with them is the NFC East. Jeremy Shockey, Jason Witten, & Chris Cooley are all major weapons and top 10 in the NFL at their position. As the eventual replacement for the hard working, but not overly physically talented Chad Lewis, The Eagles drafted LJ Smith out of Rutgers in 2003. LJ, Shockey, Witten, & Cooley were all drafted between 02-04.

Since then LJ has clearly shown that he has talent. Eagles fans have all noticed his speed and ability to run after the catch. However, they’ve also noticed some of his shortcomings…. For one, he’s not the greatest blocker and the criticism I seem to always hear is that he fumbles. First, I would certainly stipulate to the fact that he isn’t the best blocker around. However, very few if any of the top TEs in football are. In fact, the “blocking tight end” as it’s come to be called is almost like an entire other position on it’s own. If LJ delivers the offensive production he’s capable of, the Eagles won’t be terribly interested in his blocking ability. Then, there’s the feeling that he fumbles. Honestly, I had the same feeling. I certainly seemed to remember LJ fumbling in big spots and having a lot more trouble holding onto the football than most TEs. Although a look a the numbers tells otherwise…

LJ has only fumbled twice in his 3 year career according the stats. I found it hard to believe, but I checked multiple sources and it’s true. Only one of those was lost. It's very similar to other TEs who came into the league with LJ. Antonio Gates has fumbled once and lost that fumble in his 3 year career. Jason Witten has fumbled twice and lost one exactly the same as LJ. Shockey has fumbled 5x and lost 3 in 4 years. Chris Cooley fumbled 3 times last year! The great Tony Gonzalez in KC fumbled 5x in his first 3 years, Crumpler has fumbled 4x and lost all of them in his 5 year career including 2 in his first 3 years losing 1 just like LJ. Here’s hoping that it was all in our heads and next year LJ will erase the stigma, right or wrong, from our minds…

In his first year as a starter, LJ had a breakthough year last year. Although with everything else going on, no one really seemed to notice it. He nearly doubled his totals in receptions, yards, & first downs. He tied for the team lead in receptions with 61 & finished 2nd in yards with 682. LJ was also named a pro bowl alternate last year.

He started the year on an incredible pace and seemed really locked in with Donovan McNabb. He had 42 catches until the week McNabb went down for good after 9 games. At the time he was 2nd in the NFL among TEs in catches, behind the great Antonio Gates. He actually went on to have a great game the week after McNabb went down when he caught 7 balls. From that time on however, he only caught 12 balls in the last 6 games, a sharp decline.

With a healthy McNabb next year it’s more than reasonable to expect that LJ can grab 70+ balls. Combine that with the fact that Brian Westbrook has shown that he can easily get to 70 catches when healthy… That’s a lot of completions for McNabb outside of his wide receivers. With the Eagles young WR core, a weapon in the pass game from TE spot like LJ should be one of the most vital parts in the success of this offense next year.

Finally, where does LJ stack up against the top TEs in the NFL? He finished 8th overall in yards & 9th overall in catches. He only had 3 TDs however, which is less than than the 7-10 that the leaders among TEs had. Tight Ends should be most effective in the red zone, so that’s an area he needs to improve on. On the bright side, he did grab 5 TDs in the 04/05 season. Overall, I think it may be safe to say that LJ has made himself one of the top 10 tight ends in the NFL, 4 of which are in the NFC East. I, for one, can't wait to see what else this kid has.


8 Responses to “How good is… LJ Smith?”

  1. Blogger BrianS 

    Have you seen enough of Schoebel to have an opinion on how he'll compliment LJ? I haven't really seen him play at all, but the more weapons, the better. I think if 5's healthy, he's got enough talent at RB, WR, and TE to spread the ball around for an effective offense, especially if they mix in the running game more - but I'm off-topic.

    I'm hoping the Eagles will give LJ an extension at some point soon -- I think he's underrated because two of the signature plays of his career are his drop on the fake field goal in the opening game at the Linc (LJ's first game ever!) and that silly fumble that Freddie M. caught for a TD.

    Thanks for the write-ups -- this the one of the best Eagles sites I've found, so I hope people are reading it.

  2. Anonymous mca 

    As much as LJ seems to be on the rise, I still don't like his style of play. He plays stupid, and that just isn't an empty insult. There were a number of plays last year and in the past that he tried to get "the extra yard", which is ridiculus when there is a cadre of linebackers salivating to break them off something. He holds the ball like a baby, and I really do find it hard to believe that he has only fumbled twice. Also, he only caught 12 balls in the last 6 games? I realize there were (very) lesser skilled players around him, but that is ridiculous. Maybe it was Andy Reid's playcalling, but 12 catches in 6 games for a Pro-Bowl calibur TE is absurd.

    Bring back Keith Jackson!

  3. Blogger JB 

    Brian - I haven't seen alot of Schoebel. The reports are on him that he's an okay blocker with decent hands that's good in the red zone. I think he's there to block and be an extra target in the red zone. He won't function as much as reciever as LJ

    MCA - I agree with alot of what you said. I think he does run stupidly sometimes, although I do love the way he goes for yards after the catch. I think we have to hope that it's one of the things he improves as he matures in his 2nd year starting.

    As for the end of the season, I agree that it was bad. He went downhill bigtime after #5 went down. He was playing with Mike McMahon which is a valid excuse though..

    Either way, the excuses for his shortcomings are okay right now. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt after only one year starting. However, if those things don't improve this year and beyond then the excuses won't work anymore. He needs to stay consistent and run smarter next year.

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  5. Anonymous Dan 

    Though I haven't seen much of Schoebel... I've heard the opposite regarding his blocking. I've heard his blocking skills are pretty porous, but he presents mismatch problems in the passing game. From what I understand, the Eagles are going to use him in 2 TE sets as another receiving threat, attempting to take advantage of matchups against nicklebacks and slower linebackers.

  6. Anonymous JB 

    The reports I've read on Schoebel is that he's gotten much better as a blocker in his career and is better than he was. He's certainly not one of those "extra offensive lineman" type TEs that can take on a defensive end, but he's decent. Certainly better than LJ Smith, who is just an atrocious blocker.

  7. Anonymous Rich 

    This was a very interesting read. You did make a great case for LJ. Shedding light on the fumbles was a big thing. Most people thought he did fumble a lot more. The blocking issue does hurt the Eagles as a team but if you were to take him in fantasy football, he would be amazing. Look at the Chiefs for example, they are bringing in Kyle Turley to help with blocking duties. More and more I think the tight end will be much more important in catching than blocking.

  8. Anonymous Rich 

    This was a very interesting read. You did make a great case for LJ. Shedding light on the fumbles was a big thing. Most people thought he did fumble a lot more. The blocking issue does hurt the Eagles as a team but if you were to take him in fantasy football, he would be amazing. Look at the Chiefs for example, they are bringing in Kyle Turley to help with blocking duties. More and more I think the tight end will be much more important in catching than blocking.

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