NFL

Jimmy Smith Might Be the Best Wide Receiver Not in the Hall of Fame

You know the names. Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens, and Michael Irvin. They’re some of the greatest wide receivers to ever play the game, and they have one thing in common: They’re Hall of Famers. Yet one key name is left out of the conversation. The Jacksonville Jaguars’ Jimmy Smith may just be one of the most underrated wide receivers of all time. 

Jimmy Smith’s career with the Jaguars

Jimmy Smith of the Jacksonville Jaguars
Wide receiver Jimmy Smith of the Jacksonville Jaguars | George Gojkovich/Getty Images

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Despite incredible production in his years with the Jacksonville Jaguars, he’s not a household name. After a decent college career playing for the smaller Jackson State University, Smith was drafted by the Cowboys in 1992 as the 36th overall selection.

Unlike some receivers, Smith didn’t come out of the gate swinging. He struggled to forge a spot on the Cowboys’ roster and was soon let go. In 1995, however, the newly-formed expansion team, Jacksonville Jaguars, gave him a shot. Smith played 11 seasons with the new franchise, logging a career total of 12,287 receiving yards and 67 touchdowns. 

Around 2001, things changed. Smith underwent multiple surgeries for a stomach problem, limiting his play. Until his departure from the NFL in 2006, he was continually in trouble for minor substance abuse issues. Regardless of his personal life, he was a five-time consecutive pro bowler. Leading the team in receptions, he was a dominant force in the NFL. 

Numbers don’t lie

Recently, FiveThirtyEight.com made an assertion: At the height of Smith’s career, he was the best wide receiver in the NFL. That’s saying a lot given that his contemporaries were Randy Moss and Marvin Harrison. If Smith’s numbers were adjusted for his era, the team’s season length, and the passes thrown to the team, he’d be second only to Harrison for reception stats. 

There are two reasons his stats stand out from an analysis perspective: First, the caliber of players he contended with, not just around the league but the other receivers on his team.

Second, during Smith’s peak years, around 1999, the NFL as a whole played a more conservative game, relying on a balance between run and pass. The modern game, which skews focus more toward passing, hadn’t developed yet, making Smith’s 862 career receptions that much more prolific. 

Snubbed from HOF

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All of this begs a very important question: with numbers like that, why isn’t Smith in the Hall of Fame yet? Since he’s been eligible for induction, he’s never even made it close to consideration. There’s a number of reasons behind that. 

For starters, Smith has had a rough ride since retirement. He’s struggled with drug addiction since the middle of his professional career, and although he is clean and sober now, he spent a year in prison in 2013 due to his habits. 

Character flaws aside, there’s other reasons he hasn’t made the Hall of Fame yet. Part of it has to do with the caliber of receivers that played with him. Another factor is that Jacksonville was far from a dominant team during his tenure. It certainly doesn’t help that in the years since Smith’s career peaked, the NFL become pass-centered. It’s easy to lose Smith in a sea of better stats. 

For now, the retired star takes it one day at a time, choosing to focus on sobriety rather than notoriety. In 2016, he was formally inducted in the Pride of Jacksonville’s winner circle. Until he can make his case heard in Canton, that will have to do.