For some reason, despite catching for than 1000 yards over the last couple of seasons, Steve Smith if flying under the radar when people talk about the best wide receivers in the NFL. True, it’s quite certain that his best days are behind him, but when healthy he is still among the most productive in the league, and if early rumors coming out of the Carolina Panthers are true, Smith is going to have another excellent season.
Sometimes one bad season sticks out stronger than anything else. Smith caught only 46 passes for 554 yards in 2010, but that was mostly due to the crisis at quarterback, as Jimmy Clausen started 10 games with the team finishing at an abysmal 2-14. Since the arrival of Cam Newton the Panthers have won 13 games, while Smith has assembled 2568 yards and 11 touchdowns in those two seasons.
Yet for some reason, he hasn’t been included on an All-Pro team since 2005, and hasn’t made the Pro Bowl, which is a better indicator of what the fans consider him to be at the moment, since 2008. Smith has caught for over 1000 yards on seven of his 12 seasons in the NFL and has remained healthy on all but one of them. Despite turning 34 two weeks ago, he’s very much intending to have a huge impact this season as well.
The Panthers are going to try to be a little more effective in their passing game this season, adding Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon to the mix, hoping to help Smith, who had tight end Greg Olsen and Brandon LaFell as the next best receivers after him last season. This is still going to be a team that runs first, but with more weapons to help Cam Newton get out of the stall-mode he’s gone into, Smith might be able to get a few more open looks than he has last season.
His head coach, regardless of the talent around him, is pleased. Rivera has said multiple times that Smith looks like he’s 25, referring to his 2005 season, when he caught 103 passes for 1563 yards and 12 touchdowns. He had another excellent season in 2008, catching 78 passes for 1421 yards, averaging 101.5 per game.
But it’s not just the numbers. It’s the attitude he’s been showing in preseason interviews, and the ability and effort he has been showing on the field early on. The NFC South is a very tough division to come out of, and the Panthers look to dependent on their QB’s scrambling ability, which has been inconsistent last season, to finish above last in the division. Yet Smith is a weapon and contributor not to be overlooked, and no one should be surprised if he ends up having another 1000 yard season without anyone really noticing.