Countdown to 2020: Best Cleveland Browns player to wear No. 41
Who is the best player to wear number 41 for the Cleveland Browns?
The countdown to the 2020 NFL season is upon us. With 41 days remaining until the Browns season opener, we continue the countdown by celebrating the best Cleveland Browns player to ever wear number 41: Ralph Smith.
Ralph ‘Catfish’ Smith was originally selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the eighth round of the 1962 NFL draft out of the University of Mississippi. While at the University of Mississippi, Smith helped Ole Miss win their first two National Championships in 1959 and 1960. Smith was a starting wide receiver on the 1960 championship team. ‘Catfish’ Smith was later inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.
Smith played for three seasons in Philadelphia, spending most of his time as a backup left end (wide receiver) to Pete Ratzlaff and Ron Goodwin. Smith started in six games as a member of the Eagles catching a total of 10 passes for 127 yards and scoring one solitary touchdown. The Eagles would transition Smith from receiver to tight end in his final season in Philadelphia.
In 1965 the Eagles moved on from the former eighth-round draft pick, and Smith ended up in a Browns uniform. ‘Catfish’ was brought into Cleveland to be the backup to his former college teammate, Johnny Brewer, at tight end.
Initially, Smith was used primarily as an additional blocker when he would see the field, which was rarely. ‘Catfish’ did start in two games in 1965 in relief of Brewer but did not register a single reception during his first year in Cleveland.
However, in 1966 the tight end position went through a major overhaul. Milt Morin was drafted to be the tight end of the future and Brewer was moved to the defensive side of the ball to play linebacker. The one constant from the previous season was Smith playing the backup role, which he did admirably.
Smith started in four contests and caught a career-high 13 passes for 183 yards and scored three touchdowns. His 1966 season eclipsed everything he accomplished during his three years in Philadelphia. Smith was adept at getting open when covered by linebackers, which proved to be useful when close to the goal-line.
Smith followed up his career-best year by starting in all 14 games and setting career bests in receptions and yards. ‘Catfish’ hauled in 14 footballs for 211 yards including a career-best 49-yard reception. Smith also recovered a fumble that he was able to get into the endzone for a touchdown. The 1967 season was Smith’s best as a professional.
In 1968, Smith would go back to being relegated to backup duties, as Morin emerged as one of the premier tight ends in the NFL. After the 1968 season, Morin would go on to play the final year of his career with the Atlanta Falcons. Smith played eight seasons in the NFL, and undoubtedly the majority of his success came with the Browns.
‘Catfish’ Smith is the best player to wear number 41 for the Cleveland Browns.