The Panthers don’t have a game this weekend. What better way to go into that weekend reminiscing about a time when the Panthers were actually good?
The Carolina Panthers still don’t have a Hall of Famer to call their own. Hall of Famers like Kevin Greene and Reggie White have made their way through Carolina in the twilights of their careers, but neither made their names here. White spent one year in Carolina between bouts of retirement. Greene had some of his best years in Carolina, but they were three of the final four seasons of a career that spanned 15 years and four franchises. Neither represent the Panthers in the Hall of Fame.
Steve Smith could change that. He left the organization on bad terms, but the source of that bad blood has since been relieved of his duties, so Smith has again become involved with the organization. He’s one of the most beloved members of the organization in its history and has always been a fan favorite league wide, but that isn’t enough to put him in the Hall of Fame on its own. However, his statistical profile within the context of his NFL career should be enough to get Steve Smith in the Hall of Fame.
On the surface, the numbers are in Smith’s favorite. His 14,371 career receiving yards rank eighth all time. Every Hall of Fame eligible player above him on the list has made the hall, and guys like Marvin Harrison (ninth), James Lofton (12th), and Cris Carter (13th) have been inducted with fewer career receiving yards. He ranks 12th all time in receptions and 30th all time in touchdowns despite never being known as a touchdown scorer. He won the receiver triple crown in 2005 (leading the league in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns)—a feat that hadn’t been accomplished since Sterling Sharpe in 1992 and hadn’t been matched after until Cooper Kupp did it last season.
The counting numbers without context should be strong enough to make him a finalist at the very least. The additional context that the story of his career provides should be enough to push him over the top.
Steve Smith dominated the NFL as an outside wide receiver with slot receiver dimensions. Despite standing at just 5’9”, 195 pounds, Smith spent almost all of his time out wide and dominated as if he were six inches taller. He was a jump ball target that would outleap multiple defenders to haul in contested catches. He also turned into a running back once the ball was in his hands, stiff arming defenders to the ground, breaking tackles, and running away from pursuers.
His physically dominant style despite being among the smaller players in the league made him one of the more unique receivers the NFL has ever seen. He’s a player that is a fixture of his era with the statistical profile to back it up. And the vast majority of his damage was done with Jake Delhomme as his quarterback. His numbers would be even better if he spent any of his career with a top caliber quarterback or if he didn’t lose a few years of productivity in the purgatorial years between Delhomme’s falloff and Cam Newton’s arrival in Carolina during the backend of Smith’s prime.
We’ll find out in January if Smith makes it as a finalist, and the Hall of Fame class will be unveiled at the NFL Honors ceremony on Super Bowl weekend. Smith deserves the honor, and hopefully the Hall of Fame selection committee agrees.
On that note, here’s a video to relive some of his best moments: