On August 10th, 2015, legendary former Carolina Panthers (and current Baltimore Ravens) wide receiver Steve Smith SR. announced that 2015 would be his last season in the NFL, which would close out a very impressive career for the 3rd round draft pick out of Utah. A 5-time Pro Bowler (2001, 2005-06, 2008, and 2011), a 2 time First Team-All Pro (2001 as a kick returner, 2005 as a receiver), and a 1 time 2nd Team All Pro (2008), Smith has been known for his productive play on the field and his trash talk off of it, and is arguably the greatest player in Carolina Panthers franchise history.
Speaking of Panthers, the franchise has yet to have a player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Reggie White, a legendary Hall of Fame defensive end, played in Carolina, but only for one year (2000). If Smith SR. retires after 2015, he will first be eligible for the 2021 Pro Football class. The only question is: Does Steve Smith deserve such an accolade?
The answer is yes.
In order to prove my side of matters, I will divide this article into 4 sections; Playing Style, Records, Postseason, and Legacy. The sections will come with a series of charts, stats from pro-football-reference.com,, and bold or italic highlighting.
At 5 ft. 9, Steve Smith SR was a good example of a successful small receiver. At 195 lb, he wasn’t bulk-like compared to other receivers in the league. But what he lacked in size he more than made up for in speed. Steve Smith was purely fast, and it was especially evident during his rookie season in 2001, when he was a kick returner.
As a receiver, Smith SR used his speed and size as an advantage, using his quickness to gain easy separation, and his size to elude, avoiding tackles and defenders in his way. As such, his matchup ability against defenders was a nightmare; in spite of his small size, he could adjust his angle and spring high in the air to make highlight reel-worthy catches.
During his prime, Smith was an explosive and flashy receiver; this can be really important when it comes to HOF voting, because people tend to remember the playmaking skills. With that said, Smith SR was all that and then some. NFL fans of all ages will certainly remember his crazy good athleticism, dominance at the catch point, and especially his dominance after the catch.
In order to be a Hall of Famer, you have to have the rings or some crazy ass records. In Steve Smith’s case, he’s got a number of records. It should be obvious he’s the holder of many Panthers franchise records, but I don’t feel like expressing those in detail.
What I am interested in are the number of unique records he either holds or shares. For one, in 2005, Steve Smith became one of 3 wide receivers since the AFL-NFL merger to achieve the WR Triple Crown (lead a single season in catches, yards, and touchdowns), joining Jerry Rice (1990) and Sterling Sharpe (1992).
Impressive company, considering Smith had the most yards of all 3 receivers in a Triple Crown year. Sterling Sharpe had a very underrated career, but that’s for another day. We all know about what Jerry Rice did as well. Enough said.
Steve Smith also holds a number of other records, as listed below.
Pretty unique, eh? I find it amazing that he led 2008 in receiving yards despite the Panthers finishing last in pass attempts (414) that season. He’s also the first wide receiver ever to lead a single season in yards for a team that attempted more rushes than passes. Finally, he is the only WR to win the Associated Press’ Comeback Player of the Year Award, doing so in 2005.
With all things said, Smith was prolific as they come.
If you’re not convinced yet that Steve Smith belongs in Canton, then perhaps his postseason numbers will. In 11 career playoff games, Smith has caught 9 touchdown passes (if we count his kick return touchdown in 2005 against Seattle, that’s 10 in 11) for 1,001 receiving yards. He has 5 games with at least 20.0 yards per reception, and 7 with at least 18.0 YPR. Perhaps his finest playoff game came in 2005 against the Chicago Bears in the Divisional Round, where Smith caught 12 receptions for 218 yards and 2 touchdowns in a Panthers 29-21 victory. That’s the 5th most receiving yards in a single postseason game ever.
His 2003 postseason remains one of the best from a wide receiver ever. Take a look below.
His 404 receiving yards are 4th all time, and he was the first WR to achieve 400+ yards in a single postseason since Jerry Rice back in 1988. His 2005 season is also 10th in single postseason receiving yards (335).
Even in his mid 30s, Smith has dominated in the playoffs, more so than even the best receivers of his era; his 4 100-yard postseason games are more than what guys like Randy Moss and Terrell Owens have had in their careers. This happened despite playing with QBs who weren’t as good as the ones those guys had. What more needs to be said?
Steve Smith’s career hasn’t racked up as many mind blowing stat sheets as Jerry Rice and Randy Moss, but there’s a good reason for that; Steve Smith SR never had great QB play in his career. Most of his career has been with Jake Delhomme, a QB whose reputation isn’t nearly as bad as everyone would like to think. Delhomme played well for a short time before infamously collapsing in the 2008 playoffs, where a 12-4 Panthers team lost to a 9-7 Arizona Cardinals team 33-13. Delhomme threw 5 picks and lost 1 fumble, committing a total of 6 turnovers in that game.
Next is Cam Newton. While Newton’s been a top 15 QB, he’s never provided great QB play in any of his first 4 seasons, including accuracy issues he has to work out. Joe Flacco, his new QB, played very well last season, but nothing that makes you scream “elite”, including some of the same accuracy issues Newton’s been dealing with. Still, I’m sure Smith would take these 3 guys over lesser QBs such as Matt Moore, Rodney Peete, Vinny Testaverde, and David Carr, who have also thrown to Smith (with extremely disastrous results).
The Panthers only made the playoffs 4 times in Steve Smith’s career there, yet he’s been so consistently very good/great. That’s mainly why he deserves a shot in the Hall of Fame; his sustainability. A 15-year veteran, Smith’s reputation as one of the millennium’s most dominant receivers has not gotten unnoticed, and combined with his playmaking abilities and postseason criteria, should make him a fine Hall of Fame candidate.
One problem; the NFL is known for making receivers wait an excruciating amount of time to get in. Cris Carter and Tim Brown waited an eternity, and it’s guaranteed Randy Moss and Terrell Owens do the same as well. Marvin Harrison should already be in, but for some reason is not.
As such, Smith will have to wait a long time to get in. But it’s worth it. Smith could have 60 drops in 2015 and it would not lower my opinion of him. From young to old, he’s been a dangerous threat and an explosive weapon for the Carolina Panthers and now the Baltimore Ravens, and should get into the Hall of Fame because he deserves it.
Bottom-line, if you don’t think Steve Smith belongs in the Hall of Fame, then ice up son.
(Main photo via sportswire.usatoday.com. Other photos via sikids.com, profootballtalk.com, sports.espn.go.com, and thesplish.com in respective order of appearance)