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By the Numbers: Wide Receivers

Posted Jan 27, 2010

Smith
An arm injury kept Steve Smith from 1,000 yards, but he still surged in his last four games after finding the going rough in the season's first three months. (PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS)


CHARLOTTE -- A flood of wide receivers going over 1,000 yards in a season is the legacy of recently retired coach Richard Williamson, and for six seasons, a Panthers receiver hitting the milestone was as certain as a sunset.

On two occasions, the 1,000-yarder was Muhsin Muhammad; for the following four, it was Steve Smith. But the hopes of sustaining that streak ended when Smith fractured his forearm just before crossing the goal line with his sixth touchdown of the season against the New York Giants.

The season as a whole was less than Smith wanted; he finished with 982 yards and saw his average per reception drop from 18.2 yards a year earlier to 15.1. Much of that was due to factors beyond his control; indeed, a higher percentage of errant throws meant that Smith only caught 50.8 percent of the passes intended for him last year, down from the 60.5-percent ratio of 2008 and below the league-wide 2009 percentage of 57.3 percent for wide receivers.

Fellow starting wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad, however, remained about the same in the percentage of targeted passes he caught; he dropped 0.6 percent in that category, hauling in 59.6 percent of the passes tossed his way in 2009, placing him above the league average.

Note: "Target Pct." is the percentage of receptions per overall times targeted. Smith was targeted by Panthers quarterbacks 128 times and recorded 65 receptions, giving him a target percentage of 50.8 percent.

STEVE SMITH
YEAR TARGET PCT. TD PCT. 20+ PCT. 1ST DOWN PCT.
2009 50.8% 10.8% 23.1% 63.1%
2008 60.5% 7.7% 29.5% 75.6%
MUHSIN MUHAMMAD
YEAR TARGET PCT. TD PCT. 20+ PCT. 1ST DOWN PCT.
2009 59.6% 1.9% 13.2% 60.4%
2008 60.2% 7.7% 18.5% 70.8%
ALL WIDE RECEIVERS IN 2009
GROUP TARGET PCT. TD PCT. 20+ PCT. 1ST DOWN PCT.
Panthers 53.8% 6.3% 18.3% 59.2%
NFL 57.3% 7.6% 17.9% 64.8%
ALL WIDE RECEIVERS IN 2008
GROUP TARGET PCT. TD PCT. 20+ PCT. 1ST DOWN PCT.
Panthers 58.5% 6.5% 23.2% 73.2%
NFL 57.5% 7.5% 16.6% 64.1%

Of particular note in the above table is the percentage of Smith and Muhammad's receptions that went for first downs. Muhammad's ratio descended from 70.8 percent in 2008 to 60.4 percent last year; Smith's fell from 75.6 percent to 63.1. In both cases, they were below the league average for wide receivers, which stood at 64.1 percent of all receptions.

But in the final weeks of the season, Smith and the Panthers' receiving corps showed flashes of finding a groove once again. Below is a comparison of how Smith, Muhammad and the collection of Panthers wide receivers fared from September through November -- when the team went 4-7 -- and in December and January, after Jake Delhomme was hurt and when the team surged to a 4-1 finish that salvaged a break-even season.

STEVE SMITH
SPAN TARGETED CATCHES TARGET PCT. YDS YDS/REC YDS/G
Sept.-Nov. 97 46 47.4% 604 13.1 50.3
Dec.-Jan. 31 19 61.3% 378 19.9 94.5
MUHSIN MUHAMMAD
SPAN TARGETED CATCHES TARGET PCT. YDS YDS/REC YDS/G
Sept.-Nov. 60 34 56.7% 339 10.0 37.7
Dec.-Jan. 29 19 65.5% 242 12.7 48.4
ALL PANTHERS / ALL NFL TEAMS
SPAN TARGETED CATCHES TARGET PCT. YDS YDS/REC YDS/G
Panthers, Sept.-Nov. 189 96 50.8% 1,118 11.6 101.6
Panthers, Dec.-Jan. 73 46 63.0% 706 15.3 141.2
NFL, Entire season 9,861 5,651 57.3% 74,616 13.2 145.7

From a collective perspective, the increase in yardage per game by Carolina's wide receivers is impossible to ignore; the Panthers had lingered near the bottom of the league in yardage produced by wide receivers in Weeks 1-12 but climbed out, with their receivers average 39.0 percent more yards per game in the last five weeks of the season.

Smith's numbers are particularly noteworthy; his averages of 4.8 receptions, 94.5 yards and 0.75 touchdowns per game (achieved over four games, because he missed Week 17) would place him on a 16-game pace of 76 catches, 1,512 yards and 12 touchdowns with a 19.9-yards-per-catch average. The yardage would be the second-best of his career; the touchdown tally would tie a career record and the yardage per reception would be the best of his career, with his current standard the 18.2-yard average in 2008.

Smith turns 31 this offseason, but that represents little cause for worry; 114 different 1,000-yard seasons have been recorded by players 31 or older, including 32 in the last five seasons. Given the production and chemistry he established with Matt Moore in the last month of the season, Smith should have some big years ahead of him, no matter who ends up throwing the passes.

The 1,000-yard streak might have stopped, but if Smith can avoid injury in 2010, it seems likely to resume once again.