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Carolina Panthers’ Steve Smith: Hall of Famer?

June 13th, 2013 at 9:34 PM
By Jesse Collin

'Steve Smith' photo (c) 2011, Parker Anderson - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/ Carolina Panthers wideout Steve Smith still believes there is plenty of gas left in his tank. The 13-year veteran told the Associated Press on Thursday he wants to play "15 or 16 years" in the NFL.

If all goes according to plan, this would keep the Panthers' all-time leading receiver lacing up the cleats through the 2015 or 2016 season.

Smith's 11,452 career receiving yards ranks 23rd all-time and third among active players (Tony Gonzalez, Reggie Wayne). If he's able to stay healthy and maintain a high level of play for two or three more seasons, the five-time Pro Bowler could solidify his case for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

To put things into perspective, No. 89 needs 2,326 more receiving yards to move into the top 10 all-time.

While you would expect a dip in production from most aging NFL receivers, Smith, who turned 34 this May, isn't most aging receivers – and his numbers over the last two seasons bare out that notion.

Smith looked to be fading after failing to reach 1,000 yards receiving in consecutive seasons from 2009-10 – something that hadn't occurred since his first two years in the NFL. In reality, the merry-go-round of mediocrity at quarterback was mostly responsible for the Panthers' offensive impotency during this period.

In fact, this is perhaps the most impressive thing about Smith's numbers. Until Cam Newton came to Charlotte, the 5-foot-9, 198-pound California native played predominantly with lousy-to-middling quarterbacks.

Sure, there were a few decent seasons with Jake Delhomme, including the magical run to the Super Bowl in 2003-04. But for the most part, Smith managed to become one of the premier wideouts in the league despite his quarterbacks – Rodney Peete, Chris Weinke, David Carr, Jimmy Clausen, etc.

Naturally, Smith got his swag back two years ago when Newton took over the reins. On the wrong side of 30 with more than a decade of NFL mileage on his legs, the three-time All-Pro appeared to have discovered the fountain of youth. As it turns out, there was no special elixir – just the arrival of a dynamic, big-play quarterback and aggressive, attacking-style offense.

The reinvigorated Panthers wideout followed 79 catches, 1,394 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011 with 73 catches, 1,174 yards and four scores last season.

'Pro Football Hall of Fame' photo (c) 2011, marada - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

If he chooses to play three more seasons – and manages to put up comparable numbers while doing so – Smith could climb much higher in the record books than most would have imagined. In fact, it's within the realm of possibility for the man tenderly known as 'Smitty' to crack the top five of the all-time receiving yards list.

Now, just imagine what Steve Smith's resume would look like if he had played alongside Cam Newton his entire career.

When it's all said and done, No. 89 should – and will – be immortalized at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio?

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Tags: Cam Newton, Carolina, Carolina Panthers, Football, Jake Delhomme, NFL, Steve Smith

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