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Is Steve Smith Sr. a Hall of Famer?

Updated on August 10, 2015

Early on August 10th, Baltimore Ravens wide receiver, Steve Smith Sr. announced that the 2015 season would be his very last in the NFL.
Looking back over the last 14 seasons, and perhaps even further, I have a hard time thinking of any player that played harder, or with more heart than Steve Smith.
The NFL has always been the land of the giants, but few players have enjoyed the success that Smith has, despite being only 5'9.
So as we look back at what truly was a prolific career, the question on everyone's mind is...
Does Steve Smith Jr. belong in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

The Sad Truth

Let's be real.
Stats don't mean everything in the NFL, and they certainly don't have a huge impact on does or does not make the Hall of Fame.
Michael Strahan had about 50 more sacks than Warren Sapp, but that didn't stop the Hall from putting Sapp in first.
Tim Brown had more catches, yards, and touchdowns than Andre Reed, but Reed still saw his bust in Canton before Brown did.

It's about more than that.
If we're being honest folks, it's all very political.
The voting process... It's dirty.
Sportswriters, each with their own agendas and bias, get together and vote on which players they think they deserve to get in.
It helps if you're more marketable, if you were nice to media, or hell, if you joined the media.
Kenny Stabler and Joe Namath, despite having very similar careers, faced very different results with Hall voters because of how they interacted with reporters and how many Hollywood deals they made.

Steve Smith...
Well... He's been marketable.
Aside from being the face of the Carolina Panthers since day one, being a little man with a big mouth has made him a very polarizing character in the NFL.
Some people love him, some people hate him, but he runs his mouth as well as he runs with the ball, and he's very good at both.
I don't see him hopping to NFL Network to grab a media job anytime soon, though he'd be very good at it, and hopefully his vocal character will endear him to voters, as opposed to alienating them.

IMPACT.

Yes!
More important than any statistic is the impact that someone has on the field.
You might say, "Hey Ryan, what's the difference?!"
Lynn Swann's dramatic super bowl catch.
Jim Marshall's wrong way run.
Joe Namath's Guarantee.
Lester Haye's Sticky Fingers.

Moments that change the game.
Signatures that last a lifetime.
The first thing you think when you remember a player.
These are the little things that decide who get in the hall of fame.

Unfortunately, not every player gets a chance to make a moment like this.

Cliff Branch won multiple super bowls, but none of his catches were dramatic enough to make highlight reels or attract the hall voters.
Kevin Greene had 160 sacks, but none of them were splashy enough to get bronzed.

Sadly, despite having a memorable character...
Does Smith have an "impact" moment?
He's had great games, sure.
Good seasons, absolutely.
Hell, he even caught a touchdown in the Super Bowl!
...A super bowl he lost.

Unfortunately, while Steve Smith has had his moments, and he's been very exciting to watch... I can't think of a breakthrough moment that really defined his career.

Wide Receiver Purgatory.

Let's be honest folks, it's not easy to get into the Hall of Fame if you're a pass catcher.
Sterling Sharpe, Cliff Branch, and Drew Pearson have been waiting forever, and it wasn't until recently that Cris Carter, Andre Reed, and Tim Brown finally became enshrined in Canton. And sadly, it's not getting easier.
As the NFL became more about passing and less about rushing, receiving statistics have been inflated, and there are more "elite" receivers than ever.

When Tim Brown was playing, the 2000 season was arguably his best.
He caught 75 passes for 1,128 yards and 11 touchdowns from Rich Gannon.
That season, Gannon only attempted 473 passes.

In 2015, the top ten passers averaged 598 attempts
FIVE HUNDRED AND NINETY-EIGHT?
Well, someone has to catch those passers, and as if there wasn't already a logjam at the position, a lot of really talented guys are going to get lost in wide receiver purgatory.

So, even though Steve Smith's numbers are respectable, when you start comparing them to guys from a different era, you have to take that inflation into perspective.
However... I'm going to do just that.

I know that Mr. Smith has one more year to play, but so far, he's caught 915 passes for 13,262 yards, and 73 touchdowns.
He's had eight seasons with 1,000 yards or more, and one season a piece with at least 100 catches or 10 touchdowns.
His best season was easily 2005, where he caught 103 passes for 1,536 yards, and 12 touchdowns.

Let's compare him to some other guys, starting a gentleman who finally walked out of Canton a free man this summer, Tim Brown.

Tim Brown


Over his illustrious career, Brown caught 1,094 passes for 14,934 yards, and 100 touchdowns.
He had nine seasons with at least 1,000 yards, 2 seasons with at least ten touchdowns, and 1 season with at least 100 catches.
On top of that, it's worth mentioning that Brown added 4,555 yards, and 4 touchdowns as a returner.

Now, at a glance, you think that hey, Smith and Browns have comparable numbers.
Unfortunately, you do have to remember that we're talking about players from two very different eras, and Brown's numbers are just a little better.
If you compare the numbers from the brief time they shared in the league together, you obviously don't get a fair representation.
Smith didn't even start all 16 games until 2005, at which point, Brown had retired.
These numbers are almost useless because Smith was too young and Brown was too old.
But I ran them anyway.
From 2001-2004...
Tim Brown caught 248 passes for 2,862 yards, and 14 touchdowns.
Steve Smith Sr. caught 158 passes for 2,196 yards, and 10 touchdowns.
Again, skewed, and ultimately meaningless, but...

Marvin Harrison

During a magnificent career that was mostly overshadowed by the excellence of Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison hauled in 1,102 catches for 14,580 yards and 128 touchdowns.
He had 3 seasons with over 100 catches, 8 seasons with at least 10 touchcowns, and 8 seasons with at least 1,000 yards.

Holy crap.
Those... Those are some numbers.
And in only 13 seasons?!
Despite playing for a full season more than Marvin, Steve caught 187 catches, 1,318 yards and 55 touchdowns less than 88. Considering that an average season for Smith looked like 65 catches, 947 yards, and 5 touchdowns, and his last season is unlikely to surpass that...
Statistically, Harrison has a huge edge.

Of course... Harrison also had some huge help.
Harrison was sharing the field with Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Edgerrin James, and some guy named Peyton Manning.
I can say pretty comfortably that Smith never played with talent like that.
Unfortunately, that sword goes two ways.
It's true that Marvin played with tons of talent, so he faced less double coverage than Smith... but not much.
Harrison was the number one target in Indy for most of the first decade of Manning's career, and while I'm sure sharing coverage with plenty of other weapons was beneficial, he was also competing for passes.
Steve Smith is easily the best offensive weapon the Panthers have had in their franchise's short history, and while there is a question about whether the QB's could get him the ball, there's no question that he was the guy targeted the most.

Wes Welker

If we're going to compare Steve Smith to another receiver in the modern NFL, I think it's pretty obvious who we have to go to.
With an almost identical build, Wes Welker managed to string together 6 or 7 incredible seasons over the middle.
Over his brief career, Welker hauled in 890 catches for 9,822 yards, and 50 touchdowns.
He had a remarkable 5 seasons with over 100 catches, 5 seasons with over 1,000 yards, and 1 catch with at least 10 touchdowns.

If you ignore everything that Welker did before arriving in New England, he averaged 99 catches, 1,088 yards, and 6 TDs per season over 8 years with the Patriots and Broncos...
That's incredible.
I mean, truly amazing.
Regardless of the talent that changed around him, Welker was consistently reliable, and could line up anywhere on the field.
In 2008, with Brady sidelined, Welker still managed to catch 111 passes for 1,165 yards...
I mean... That's with Matt Cassel.
25 catches, 3,440 yards, and 23 touchdowns separate Welker from Smith.
That's not enough to differentiate between a hall of famer and someone who isn't, right?
But you definitely wouldn't say Wes Welker belongs in the Hall of Fame.

The Logjam

In all reality, it takes a lot to make a wide receiver a first ballot hall of famer.
All in all, only 5 wide receivers have gone in on their first year of eligibility, and none since Jerry Rice in 1983.
Nowadays, it's almost impossible, and even the players who might deserve it are stuck in line.
At this moment, Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens, Torry Holt, Cliff Branch, Isaac Bruce, Drew Pearson, Sterling Sharpe, Rod Smith, and likely Reggie Wayne are all players on the queue who deserve to get in soon.
Assuming that these guys all get the recognition they deserve, you're probably getting stuck in line unless your name happens to be Calvin Johnson.

*small edit

Jerry Rice was a first ballot hall of famer in 2010, not 1983

So... Does he?

Does he deserve to be?
That's a tough question.
He's been one of the most reliable receivers in the NFL for most of his career.
He was the only light on a lifeless Panthers team.
He was the spark that led the Panthers to the Super Bowl.
And he was a veteran pair of hands that gave Joe Flacco a reliable target.

But... The Hall of Fame is hallowed ground.
It's supposed to be reserved for the absolute best of all time.
It's supposed to be reserved for the players who defined the sport.
We're talking about the all time greats...
Does that really apply to Steve Smith?
Well... It's not about what I think.
It' not even about what the voters think.
I wanna know what you think.
Does Steve Smith belong in Canton?

Does Steve Smith Sr. Belong?!

See results

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    • Ryan Daniel Smith profile image
      Author

      Ryan Smith 2 years ago

      It's been a while since he's had a truly phenomenal season. Almost a decade since his best season, he better hope Flacco forces him the ball this year if he wants to end on a high note.

    • profile image

      Kevin Goodwin 2 years ago

      The only way he gets into the Hall of fame is if he has onemore great year.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 2 years ago from Auburn, WA

      Absolutely. He's in. Stats are only 50% of the issue in the NFL. Impact, winning, professionalism (making those around you better) all count for just as much. Great article. Voted up and shared.