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Ronde Barber: Steve Smith toughest receiver to cover

Recently retired Tampa Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber squared off against a lot of great wide receivers in his career, from Hall of Famer Jerry Rice to an unstoppable Randy Moss.

Barber's toughest assignment, though, was one of his longtime NFC South rivals.

"Megatron [Calvin Johnson] was impossible to cover. Randy Moss in his prime: nothing you can do," Barber told SI.com's Peter King. "But to me, (the Carolina Panthers') Steve Smith was the toughest guy I faced. When I played him, he was just like me. He chose to outwork everyone else out there every day. That was me."

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Ronde Barber through the years

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It's good to see Smith getting the well-deserved recognition from a probable future Hall of Famer. Over the past decade, there's been no tougher receiver in the game nor a better route-runner versus man coverage than Smith.

Smith was the best receiver in the league in 2005, leading the NFL in receptions, yards and touchdowns. Three years later, he paced all receivers with 101.5 yards per game. Not bad for an undersized wideout who never played with a premier passer.

As recently as 2011, NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell ranked Smith as the fourth-best receiver in the NFL. "He's always made tough catches in traffic. He's elusive with the ball in his hands, with the run-after-catch ability of a punt returner," Cosell explained. "Vertical speed, lateral explosion, physical strength and mental toughness -- you normally don't see that combination of traits in one receiver."

If Smith hadn't been hamstrung by the NFL's worst quarterback situation in several different seasons, his chances at Canton would be on par with Barber's.

Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.

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