EDITOR’S NOTE: Rick Gosselin spent 20 years as the NFL columnist for the Dallas Morning News, including 20 offseasons studying and researching prospects for the NFL draft. He didn’t watch any tape – he was a writer, not a scout – but he talked to the men who did watch tape. He built a network of NFL general managers, head coaches, personnel directors, scouts and assistant coaches from all 32 teams who would share with him their analyses of players. Gosselin used their insights to build his own draft board, Top 100 board and mock drafts. For 10 consecutive years he had the best Top 100 board in the country (2001-10), according to the Huddle Report, and three times he produced the best mock draft. Gosselin will resurrect his college scouting reports for a look back at how NFL talent evaluators viewed draft prospects. Next up is Steve Smith, who is in his first year of eligibility for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
GOSSELIN DRAFT ANALYSIS: Smith spent his first two seasons at Santa Monica Junior College before transferring to Utah. There he became a two-year starter and a two-time All-Mountain West pick as a kick returner in 1999 and a wide receiver in 2000. Smith set school career records for average yards per catch (20.6) and punt returns for touchdown (four). He also had two punt returns for scores nullified by penalty in 2000. Smith left Utah with 110 career catches for 1,914 yards and 14 touchdowns. He was invited to the NFL combine where he measured 5-9, 184 pounds and clocked a 4.42 40-yard dash. Gosselin rated him the 12th best wide receiver in the 2001 NFL draft and pegged him at No. 84 on his Top 100 draft board. The Carolina Panthers claimed Smith in the third round with the 74th overall selection.
Here are comments on Smith from six talent evaluators leading up to his draft:
Scout: Too small for me.
Wide receiver coach: Third round…but his kick return ability could move him into the second. A poor man’s Santana Moss.
Offensive coordinator: He wasn’t even their go-to guy at Utah.
Offensive coordinator II: Like him…but he’s small.
General manager: Little. When he got to Utah he was in a fight every day. Ran better than I thought he could. More quick than fast. But he’s so little all you can do is run him on the deep stuff.
General manager II: Kick returner in the third round.
HALL OF FAME RESUME: Smith never let that lack of size get in the way of his production. He played 16 seasons and left the game as the NFL’s 11th all-time leading receiver with 1,031 catches. He also finished eighth all-time in receiving yards with 14,731 and 28th in receiving touchdowns with 81. Smith started only one game as a rookie but was voted to the Pro Bowl as the NFC’s return specialist, averaging 25.6 yards on kickoffs with two touchdowns and 10.7 yards on punts with another score. He moved into the starting lineup in his second season, catching 54 passes and also returning two more punts for scores. Smith suffered a broken leg in the 2004 opener and missed that rest of the season but rebounded in 2005 to lead the NFL in receptions (103), yards (1,563) and touchdowns (12). He earned the first of his four Pro Bowl selections as a wide receiver that year. Smith posted six 1,000-yard seasons in his 13 years with the Panthers and added a seventh 1,000-yard season with the Baltimore Ravens, with whom he played his final three years. Smith also added six career kick and punt returns for touchdowns. He is one of three wide receivers in their first year of eligibility on the 2022 Hall of Fame ballot along with Anquan Boldin and Andre Johnson.