The past two weeks in the NFL have seen a rash of injuries to some of football’s biggest stars. Le’Veon Bell is done for the year, and Matt Forte is out for extended periods of time. Now, Keenan Allen looks like he will be out for the season.
Two big Achilles burst over the past two weeks, and with them, possibly the careers of two of the more exciting players over the past few years.
Saucy T asked the other day:
It’s a great question. Let’s find out.
Steve Smith has had quite the career. His best season was 2005 by a wide margin. That season he led the NFL in receptions, yards and TDs behind career highs across the board: 103 receptions for 1563 and 12 TDs. It would start a string of four consecutive seasons with 1000+ yards.
The thing about Smith is that he was never the best wide receiver in the game. The bulk of Smith’s career saw Randy Moss, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Terrell Owens, Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald all on the same playing field. All of those names either already have more yards or will have more yards by the time they reach their age-36 season that Smith is in now. Three of those names can be considered three of the greatest to ever suit up at wideout (Moss, Owens and Harrison) while the other three would make a heck of an argument.
Is Steve Smith really in that argument? Part of being a Hall of Famer is not simply compiling stats to be the greatest of all-time, but being considered amongst the greats of your era. Is Smith even in that conversation?
It’s hard for me to put him in there, because I always saw him as a better Santana Moss. He was a speed-demon, who could get separation by burning down the sidelines, but did that make him great? Let’s compare him to the big three.
Smith went for 1,000+ yards in eight of his 15 seasons. Harrison did it eight times in 13 seasons, while Owens did it nine times in his 15-year career. Moss was a beast and did it 10 times over 16 seasons, and we all know if he tried in Oakland, he would have had more.
Everybody loves touchdowns, right? If we look at Smith’s career numbers in touchdowns from the simple point of view, it looks like he is a no-brainer for Canton. He is 28th all-time in TD receptions with 76.
However, let’s once again compare him to the receivers that were his contemporaries. Moss (156), Owens (153) and Harrison (128) are three of the top five in history, nearly doubling up Smith’s TD production over the same span. Fitzgerald, Wayne and even Isaac Bruce had more touchdowns than Smith. Calvin Johnson has already surpassed him six years his junior. Only Andre Johnson has less touchdowns than Smith, and if he plays two more seasons to match Smith’s career, he could arguably catch him.
Ask yourself this. In this Fantasy Football age, did you ever consider Smith a top three round type of guy, a wide receiver you had to get? I never did, but all of the receivers I mentioned above were perennial top three round picks for the bulk of their career. I know it is only fantasy football, and I am not saying by any means that it is a determining factor in your Hall of Fame candidacy, but it puts it into a little better perspective to guys and gals like us.
Smith was your classic boom-or-bust receiver who would have memorable games surrounded by stinkers. The same could be said about his career.
Excluding 2004 and 2015 (his incomplete seasons due to injury), Smith put up pedestrian numbers around those eight 1000+ yard seasons. I mean, this is a guy who posted a 46 reception, 554 yard, two touchdown season in 2010. Not exactly Hall of Fame numbers.
Now, to defend Steve Smith, the one thing he did not have that many of the above mentioned receivers did have was consistency at quarterback. Tom Brady. Peyton Manning. A young Daunte Culpepper. Tony Romo. Kurt Warner. Those were just some of the guys tossing the pigskin to the receivers who are ahead of him in line for the Hall of Fame.
Does that make Smith’s case more compelling? A little bit, but I don’t know it’s enough to get him in. Especially when you consider the fact that come five years down the road when he is eligible, he won’t be in the top 30 in any category. The Hall of Fame is for legends. Legends whose numbers stand the test of time, and while they may not be the tippy top, they stay in the top ten or 15 for eternity.
Now, when it comes to Foster, you all know I am going to be biased. I have been a Houston Texans fan since they day they announced that they were bringing a team back to Houston. My brother bought me a David Carr for Christmas that first 2002 season and I still have it (and occasionally — very occasionally — wear it). There is no doubt that I want to see Foster enshrined forever amongst the legends of the game and wear that shnazzy gold jacket.
But the question isn’t what I want, it’s will he get in?
Unfortunately, I don’t know that he has a large enough resume to have his bust in the hallowed halls of Canton.
Was Foster one of the best running backs on the field between 2010 and 2012? Absolutely, and you could argue he was the absolute best. It would be a heated debate with that AP fellow.
Foster would lead the league in rushing in 2010 with 1616 yards, while Adrian Peterson would fall eight yards short of the record in 2012 with 2097. Foster would score 41 touchdowns on the ground over that span, while AP scored 36. Foster was superior in the passing game, averaging 480 yards through the air and doubling the amount of receiving touchdowns that AP had with six over those three years. When you can compare yourself to AP — a surefire Hall of Famer — that closely, you deserve some merit.
The problem is that in the years since have been full of injury, leaving what Foster’s numbers could have been feeling incomplete. Foster is now in his age-29 season and it is officially in the books. It was his seventh season in the NFL. Here’s nearly an identical comparison for you. Do you know who else played seven NFL seasons and had to hang it up after his age-29 year?
If you answered Terrell Davis, give yourself a pat on the back.
Davis has annually been on the should he be in the Hall of Fame discussion, but at the end of the day he is not. This is a guy who had a 2,000-yard rushing season and added on 21 touchdowns on the ground that same year. This is a guy that won back-to-back Super Bowls, one in which he was the Super Bowl MVP. This is a guy who has an NFL MVP Award sitting next to two Offensive Player of the Year Awards. What he does not have is a yellow jacket or his face permanently bronzed in Ohio.
How can that possibly be? Look at those accolades?
It was because his window was to short. His last three seasons were injury-riddled, yet his numbers are nearly identical with Foster’s. They both suffer from the Donnie Baseball effect.
It was a debate that lasted what seemed a decade. Will Donnie Baseball be selected into the Hall of Fame. His numbers were eerily similar to Kirby Puckett’s who made it, but Mattingly never did. While he was the best first baseman in baseball for five years and — as I have said many times — arguably the single scariest offensive weapon in the MLB over that span, his window of work was too small a window in comparison to other first baseman.
I think Foster will suffer the same fate should he decide to hang it up. And as a Texans fan, I think he should. Talent-wise, I would love to have Foster around another two years, but as a fan who loves this guy and what he did for my franchise, it’s not worth it. His body is clearly breaking down. He deserves to walk off the field while he still can.
So, two storied careers could possibly be at an end. They will forever be remembered NFL stars of their time, but I’m not so sure either will be remembered as superstars for all time. While anything could happen, I think both are long shots for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.