As a receiver, Lee Smith hardly will be missed in the Raiders’ offense. In 15 games with Oakland in 2015 he caught just 12 passes. In the first four games this season, he had six catches for just 29 yards.
Since coming into the league in 2011 with the Buffalo Bills, Smith, a fifth-round pick by the Patriots in 2011, has just 38 catches.
But the Raiders signed Smith as a free agent before the 2015 season for his blocking prowess, and he’s a key piece of the team’s blocking schemes in both the running and passing games.
So, when the Raiders saw Smith go down this past Sunday with what was described as a lower leg injury, they feared the worst. This week their fears were realized when Smith was placed on injured reserve. He’ll miss the rest of the season.
To replace him on the roster, the Raiders activated tight end Ryan O’Malley from the practice squad. He’s an undrafted free agent from Penn. As the 3-1 Raiders prepare to play the 1-3 Chargers Sunday at O.co Coliseum, they’ll have tight ends Clive Walford, Mychal Rivera and O’Malley. As of Wednesday, however, Walford wasn’t practicing because of an injury.
Left tackle Donald Penn said Smith’s loss is significant, calling it a “big, big loss.”
“He’s a big locker room guy, a big leader on the field,” Penn told Jimmy Durkin of the Bay Area News Group. “It’s going to be a tough spot to make up.”
The 6-foot-6-inch, 269-pound Smith has a reputation as one of the NFL’s best-blocking tight ends.
“It’ll take several people, in all likelihood, to fill his shoes because of all that he did, mainly the dirty work,” said Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio this week. “Mainly the blocking, the dirty work. Kind of an unsung hero kind of role where he’s just very tough, very determined. Yeah, we’ll miss him for sure, but like we do, we’ll plug in.”
Lee Smith once was judged by Pro Football Focus, the analytics website, as the NFL’s best pass-blocking tight end, and he’s certainly contributed to the fact the Raiders have allowed quarterback Derek Carr to be sacked just twice this season. He’s also been a key player in the team’s No. 5 ranked rushing attack, too, that has generated 126.8 yards per game.
Fans may not miss Smith over the remainder of this season, but his teammates and coaches surely will.