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For more from Chase and Jason, check out their work at Football Perspective and The Big Lead.

Steve Smith

Posted by Chase Stuart on June 23, 2009

Everyone knows Steve Smith is the man, but I'm not sure if people know exactly how awesome he really is. His best season was in 2005, and it was one of the greatest seasons any WR has ever had. Not only did he lead the NFL in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, he capped off that monster season with 335 receiving yards, 38 rushing yards and five total touchdowns (including a punt return) in three playoff games.

Since then, he's averaged 1196 receiving yards and 7 receiving TDs each of the past three seasons. Good numbers, to be sure, but numbers that would indicate that Smith has not been as dominant as he was back in '05. And that's the point of this post. Because upon further review, Smith hasn't declined at all.

His numbers are misleading because both Smith and Jake Delhomme have been in and out of the lineup, something that didn't happen in '05. In 2006, Smith missed two games with injury and Delhomme missed three himself. In 2007, Delhomme missed all but the first three games of the year. And last season, Smith was suspended for the first two games of the season.

But in the 28 games that Delhomme and Smith have played in since 2005, Smith has averaged 98 receiving yards per game, the same number he averaged in that magical '05 season. Despite the great performances by Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson and Anquan Boldin last year, it was Smith who led the league in receiving yards per game, and only Andre Johnson was within 10 yards of Smith's 101.5 per game average. (Even with the two missed games, because of his huge numbers on a run-first team, I ranked him as the best wide receiver last year.) A look at Smith's raw numbers from '06 to '08 would make you think his '05 performance was a fluke; but once you factor out the games where either Smith or Delhomme weren't in the lineup, you see how Smith has been absolutely dominant for a four year stretch.

How dominant, you ask? Only three duos have ever averaged more receiving yards per game over a four year stretch than Steve Smith and Jake Delhomme. Five of the six players in those pairs are in Canton or will be there five years after they hang up their cleats.

The table below shows the top 50 WR-QB pairs over every four year stretch from 1960-1963 to 2005-2008. (Note: I'm working with partial data for '08, so it's conceivable that I missed a '05-'08 stretch.) Only WRs and QBs who played at least one game together in four consecutive years and at least 20 games total were considered. The list is sorted by the receiver's yards per game average with the particular QB, but also listed is the WR's yards per game average when that QB was out of the lineup, along with the number of games in which that situation occurred.

WR			QB		 years	        #gm    w/YPG 	w/oYPG  #g
Lance Alworth		John Hadl	 1964-1967	46     103.7	114.8	 4
Don Maynard		Joe Namath	 1967-1970	38     102.3 	 44.0	 7
Lance Alworth		John Hadl	 1965-1968	51     101.1	149.0	 1
Marvin Harrison		Peyton Manning	 1999-2002	64	98.8	n/a	 0
Steve Smith		Jake Delhomme	 2005-2008	44	97.9	 56.3	15
Charley Hennigan	George Blanda	 1961-1964	47	96.3	139.0	 5
Jerry Rice		Steve Young	 1993-1996	55	95.1	 96.9	 9
Steve Smith		Jake Delhomme	 2004-2007	31	95.1	 56.3	15
Jerry Rice		Joe Montana	 1987-1990	50	94.7	 63.5	10
Marvin Harrison		Peyton Manning	 2000-2003	63	94.1	n/a	 0
Torry Holt		Kurt Warner	 2000-2003	34	93.9	 93.4	30
Jerry Rice		Joe Montana	 1986-1989	43	93.6	 83.1	17
Don Maynard		Joe Namath	 1965-1968	49	93.5	 41.4	 5
Jerry Rice		Steve Young	 1992-1995	59	93.2	110.0	 5
Torry Holt		Marc Bulger	 2002-2005	44	92.9	 89.7	18
Jerry Rice		Steve Young	 1994-1997	41	92.9	 96.9	 9
Don Maynard		Joe Namath	 1968-1971	28	92.6	 35.9	16
Herman Moore		Scott Mitchell	 1995-1998	48	90.8	 60.1	15
Michael Irvin		Troy Aikman	 1993-1996	54	90.4	 51.2	 5
Don Maynard		Joe Namath	 1966-1969	50	90.2	n/a	 0
Terrell Owens		Jeff Garcia	 2000-2003	56	90.1	 73.7	 3
Lance Alworth		John Hadl	 1966-1969	47	90.0	 95.2	 5
Marvin Harrison		Peyton Manning	 1998-2001	60	89.6	n/a	 0
Marvin Harrison		Peyton Manning	 2001-2004	63	89.4	n/a	 0
Herman Moore		Scott Mitchell	 1994-1997	55	89.2	 60.4	 9
Torry Holt		Marc Bulger	 2003-2006	53	88.9	 97.3	 9
Larry Fitzgerald	Kurt Warner	 2005-2008	41	88.7	 82.0	19
Michael Irvin		Troy Aikman	 1992-1995	60	88.7	 62.3	 4
Randy Moss		Daunte Culpepper 2000-2003	57	88.4	 86.9	 7
Chad Johnson		Carson Palmer	 2004-2007	61	88.4	 41.0	 3
Stanley Morgan		Tony Eason	 1986-1989	21	87.8	 48.4	27
Jimmy Smith		Mark Brunell	 1998-2001	57	87.5	 83.6	 5
Carlos Carson		Bill Kenney	 1984-1987	27	87.4	 50.0	22
Terrell Owens		Jeff Garcia	 1999-2002	52	87.2	 63.5	 6
Henry Ellard		Jim Everett	 1987-1990	56	86.9	 24.0	 1
Steve Smith		Jake Delhomme	 2003-2006	43	86.8	 41.8	 4
Jerry Rice		Steve Young	 1991-1994	58	86.1	 69.2	 6
Charley Hennigan	George Blanda	 1960-1963	42	85.8	132.7	 6
Michael Irvin		Troy Aikman	 1994-1997	56	85.7	 62.7	 3
Anquan Boldin		Kurt Warner 	 2005-2008	34	85.4	 79.6	20
Jimmy Smith		Mark Brunell	 1997-2000	56	85.4	 95.5	 6
Michael Irvin		Troy Aikman	 1995-1998	52	84.9	 64.2	 6
Marvin Harrison		Peyton Manning	 2002-2005	62	84.7	n/a	 0
Jerry Rice		Steve Young	 1995-1998	40	84.5	 95.9	10
Jimmy Smith		Mark Brunell	 1999-2002	59	84.4	 89.3	 3
Mark Duper		Dan Marino	 1983-1986	48	84.4	 55.8	 4
Michael Irvin		Troy Aikman	 1991-1994	56	84.3	 96.0	 8
James Lofton		Lynn Dickey	 1982-1985	49	84.3	 54.1	 7
Henry Ellard		Jim Everett	 1988-1991	61	84.3	n/a	 0
James Lofton		Lynn Dickey	 1981-1984	52	84.2	 68.3	 4
Chad Johnson		Carson Palmer	 2005-2008	52	84.1	 45.4	 9

We can also look at the top QB-WR combo for each four year period, under the same rules. No AFL modifier was used, and the AFL and NFL teams were combined for the purpose of this study. Players in the HOF have an asterisk next to their names.

4yr period      #gp     YPG     WR              	QB
2005-2008	44	97.9	Steve Smith 		Jake Delhomme
2004-2007	31	95.1	Steve Smith 		Jake Delhomme
2003-2006	53	88.9	Torry Holt 		Marc Bulger
2002-2005	44	92.9	Torry Holt 		Marc Bulger
2001-2004	63	89.4	Marvin Harrison 	Peyton Manning
2000-2003	63	94.1	Marvin Harrison 	Peyton Manning
1999-2002	64	98.8	Marvin Harrison 	Peyton Manning
1998-2001	60	89.6	Marvin Harrison 	Peyton Manning
1997-2000	56	85.4	Jimmy Smith 		Mark Brunell
1996-1999	56	83.5	Antonio Freeman 	Brett Favre
1995-1998	48	90.8	Herman Moore 		Scott Mitchell
1994-1997	41	92.9	Jerry Rice 		Steve Young*
1993-1996	55	95.1	Jerry Rice 		Steve Young*
1992-1995	59	93.2	Jerry Rice 		Steve Young*
1991-1994	58	86.1	Jerry Rice 		Steve Young*
1990-1993	43	82.3	Jerry Rice 		Steve Young*
1989-1992	35	80.9	Sterling Sharpe 	Don Majkowski
1988-1991	61	84.3	Henry Ellard 		Jim Everett
1987-1990	50	94.7	Jerry Rice 		Joe Montana*
1986-1989	43	93.6	Jerry Rice 		Joe Montana*
1985-1988	27	81.3	Stanley Morgan 		Tony Eason
1984-1987	27	87.4	Carlos Carson 		Bill Kenney
1983-1986	48	84.4	Mark Duper 		Dan Marino*
1982-1985	49	84.3	James Lofton*		Lynn Dickey
1981-1984	52	84.2	James Lofton*		Lynn Dickey
1980-1983	54	79.1	James Lofton*		Lynn Dickey
1979-1982	41	77.2	James Lofton*		Lynn Dickey
1978-1981	60	72.9	Steve Largent*		Jim Zorn
1977-1980	56	70.9	Steve Largent*		Jim Zorn
1976-1979	23	70.3	Roger Carr 		Bert Jones
1975-1978	30	65.9	Roger Carr 		Bert Jones
1974-1977	47	74.7	Cliff Branch 		Ken Stabler
1973-1976	45	71.8	Cliff Branch 		Ken Stabler
1972-1975	35	62.6	Cliff Branch 		Ken Stabler
1971-1974	36	61.8	Otis Taylor 		Len Dawson*
1970-1973	38	68.0	Gene A. Washington 	John Brodie
1969-1972	42	68.1	Gene A. Washington 	John Brodie
1968-1971	28	92.6	Don Maynard*		Joe Namath*
1967-1970	38     102.3	Don Maynard*		Joe Namath*
1966-1969	50      90.2	Don Maynard*		Joe Namath*
1965-1968	51     101.1	Lance Alworth*		John Hadl
1964-1967	46     103.7	Lance Alworth*		John Hadl
1963-1966	36	80.7	Art Powell 		Tom Flores
1962-1965	46	81.9	Charley Hennigan 	George Blanda*
1961-1964	47	96.3	Charley Hennigan 	George Blanda*
1960-1963	42	85.8	Charley Hennigan 	George Blanda*

I'll leave the comments on that list up to you guys. One last note: if you want to change the cut-off from 20 games to 30 games, you'd get the following leaders: Gary Garrison-John Hadl in '68-'71 (45 games, 75.9 yards per game), Steve Largent-Jim Zorn in '76-'79 (54, 66.9), Mark Duper-Dan Marino in '84-'87 (49, 78.9) and Jerry Rice-Joe Montana in '85-'88 (44, 81.1).

And finally, Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson have only started 16 games together, as either Schaub or Johnson has been out of the lineup in half of the Texans' games since the trade with the Falcons. In those 16 games, Johnson has 1667 yards.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009 at 7:04 am and is filed under Player articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.