David Terrell, Koren Robinson, Rod Gardner, Santana Moss and Freddie Mitchell. All five of these wide receivers were drafted in the first round of the 2001 draft, and none of the five are on the team that drafted them just four years ago.
The 74th pick in the 2001 draft, Smith has eclipsed every single WR in his draft class. Sure, Chad Johnson likes to talk about himself and Santana Moss has gotten recent pub, but no WR in the NFL is as explosive and as dominant as Steve Smith is right now.
If he were in a big market like New York, everyone would be talking about him, and everyone would know the things he’s done. The fact that he plays in Charlotte, one of the forgotten markets in the country, means his accolades are largely ignored or glossed-over by the national media.
Some stats about Smith you might not be familiar with: Smith is the only player since the NFL adopted the 16 game schedule in ’78 to amass 1,900 combined net yards in each of his first three seasons, compiling a team-record 1,994 yards in 2001 and 1,909 yards in 2002. Smith and KC's Priest Holmes are the only two players in the NFL with 1,900 or more combined net yards in each season from '01-03. His 5,803 combined net yards led all non-running backs in the NFL from '01-03. Smith currently leads the NFL in receiving yards (797), receptions (50) and touchdowns (8). Remember, Smith missed nearly the entire 2004 season with a broken leg.
"He's good and we try to feed it to him when we can," Panthers QB Jake Delhomme said after their latest win over the Vikings. "They wanted to stack the box a good bit. They'd bring eight down and have one on one opportunities and he made the most of it. He's a great player and he does well when the ball is in his hands. He enjoys playing and competing in practice. That is just Smitty and I'm glad he's on our side. He's fun to throw to. He makes things happen. He not only helps put points on the board and move the ball, but if they have to start tending to him and getting two guys on him, that can open up other guys and open up the running game."
You’d think Smith would be all over Sports Center and be the subject of paparazzi-like media coverage like other premiere stars in the NFL.
He’s not, and Smith likes it that way. He repeatedly declines opportunities to appear on National TV and Radio shows. He says he’s not about the talking, he lets his actions on the field do the talking for him.
"When I went back home I talked to my junior college," Smith said. "Seeing those guys put it in more perspective of how fortunate I am. I'm having fun being out here. I enjoy playing, but I keep stressing that last year put things in perspective. I felt like football was my whole life. When it was taken away from me, I felt the Lord was teaching me a lesson to not put all my eggs in one basket. I do a lot more at home and in the community. That is why I'm enjoying playing. When I'm football, I'm football. When I'm at home, I'm a dad and that is it."
That’s not to say Smith has gone soft. During the Panthers 38-13 thrashing of the Vikings last Sunday, Smith admitted he jawed back against Minnesota CB Fred Smoot, who Smith said started out with personal attacks before the game. Smith responded by torching Smoot on the field, setting a Panthers record with 201 yards on 11 receptions and 1 touchdown. Although Smith only scored 1 touchdown, the rest of the Panthers 31 points were directly related to those 201 receiving yards he amassed.
"When someone bangs on your door, I'm not going to hide in the corner and say, "Nobody is here."," said Smith. "I'll open it and I'm ready for the challenge."
The Panthers are 5-2, with a four-game winning streak heading into next week’s game against Tampa Bay. If the Bucs don’t double Smith or at least game-plan for him, he’ll burn them for a big game. If they decide to take away Smith by doubling and game-planning for him, other players will step-up and take advantage of Smith being the focus of their efforts.
That is the definition of an MVP.