The credit for the inspiration behind this entry belongs to Dales, a commenter on FootballOutsiders.com, who looked up the catch-rates of the Giants receivers (the percentage of balls a receiver catches when he is the intended target).  Dales, wherever and whoever you are, thank you.  You’re the man.

Smith: 84% (31 passes)

Hixon: 80% (15 passes)

Moss: 71% (7 passes)

Plax: 56% (45 passes)

Toomer: 53% (38 passes)

Now, these figures shouldn’t be read as a ranking of the best receivers on the team.  Smith’s percentage is bound to be high because he’s targeted mostly on short, over-the-middle routes. Plax and Toomer, on the other hand are targeted more downfield, which will naturally yield a lower percentage.  And because they work more toward the sideline, they are naturally farther away from the quarterback, which will lead to a lower percentage.  And in Hixon’s case, 15 passes in his direction is too small a sample to really conclude anything, although it is promising.  But the conclusion here is obvious: Steve Smith catches everything thrown his way.

In FootballOutsiders’ individual DVOA statistic, which takes catch-rate into account and adjusts traditional stats based on situation – like whether the catch gets a first down – Smith ranks 21st in the entire NFL.  (Plax, at 27th, is no slouch either.)

Giants fans know that Smith is good, but we may not realize exactly how good.  I think some of us tend to think of Smith as the proverbial (and backhanded) “nice player.”  But what he really is is one of the best possession receivers in the game.  The fans should realize this, but more importantly, so should the coaching staff so they can find ways to get this guy more involved.

The amazing thing about Smith is that he was only active for four regular season games last year before exploding onto the scene in the playoffs.  Even including those playoff games, he’s played in only 14 NFL games.  Yet his best attribute is his savviness, his understanding of how to find creases in zones and get open.  And of course, his hands, which are borne out by the 84% statistic.

But don’t sell Smith’s athleticism short.  No, he’s not a speed-burner, but he’s a perfect underneath receiver because he’s able to reach top-speed quickly.  Also, his body-control is elite: think of the catch he made in the Super Bowl that preceded the Plax TD, when he tiptoed along the sideline while picking up the first down right in front of Brandon Meriweather’s face.  He also has good ups: think of the 22-yard catch he made to get us going on the final drive of the first half of the Dallas playoff game, without which there is no miraculous playoff run.

So we have a gem in Steve Smith.  This means I was dead wrong in my initial disappointment that Carolina took Dwayne Jarrett a few picks before we selected.  It also means that the Giants should make a point of getting this guy the ball.

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Dales also compiled the catch-rates of the running backs:

Ward: 81% (16 catches)

Hedgecock: 60% (5 passes)

Jacobs: 44% (9 passes)

(Bradshaw didn’t show up on the stats, meaning that he hasn’t been targeted the minimum 5 times.)

This tells us what we already knew: Ward is a very good receiver, and Jacobs can’t catch.

But I don’t want to end on that note, because Jacobs has been absolutely amazing this year, causing me to temper my long-held skepticism about him.  That topic is for another entry, though.