Originally published April 29, Ito Smith Could Be The Next Atlanta RB Super Sleeper is part of our Memorial Day weekend free look at the best of RotoViz.
The Atlanta Falcons drafted Ito Smith 126th overall with the 26th pick in the fourth round. As the 11th running back off the board, Smith is one of the biggest post-draft risers after a combine snub and low average grades from the scouting community left him unranked in the RotoViz Scouting Index.
This is a solid landing spot for Smith, an exciting pass catcher who also showed workhorse traits at Southern Miss. Atlanta has an empty depth chart behind Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman now that Terron Ward left in free agency and their 2017 pick, Brian Hill, was sniped off the practice squad. The only other rostered RB is Terrence Magee, a late-season emergency signing, so Smith should compete for change-of-pace duties immediately if either Freeman or Coleman miss time.
Ito Smith, Southern Mississippi, 5-9, 200
RB Prospect Lab Data
The Prospect Lab gives Smith a score of 47, which ranks 10th in the class. This score relies on Pro Day times, so put a mental asterisk here, but the Lab loves his heavy usage in both the running and passing game, while looking less favorably on his age and small size.
ELITE CAREER PRODUCTION
Although Smith played in Conference USA, his production as both a runner and receiver is eye-catching. Smith compiled a massive 5,984 yards from scrimmage for the Golden Eagles and broke out as a sophomore despite platooning with Oakland Raiders running back Jalen Richard.1
After Richard’s departure, Smith became a true workhorse, putting up back-to-back 1,400-yard seasons with 40-plus receptions.
Workhorse Score is ideal for identifying undersized RBs that can handle the rigors of the NFL, and Smith particularly shines in this metric. Smith’s 91.29 was the third-highest score in 2017, behind only Phillip Lindsay and Saquon Barkley. Over the last two college seasons, Smith has the highest Workhorse Score of all drafted RBs with 87.94.
Top Workhorse Scores in 2018 RB Class
|Saquon Barkley||Penn State||—||60.97||82.44||92.20||78.63|
|Ito Smith||Southern Mississippi||21.44||36.61||84.58||91.29||62.79|
|Larry Rose III||New Mexico State||60.39||92.06||87.98||83.07||78.95|
|Ronald Jones II||USC||—||41.02||67.67||76.13||62.00|
Similarly, Smith’s Backfield Dominator rating of 79.8 percent was third in the class and first among drafted RBs.
While the Prospect Lab showed concern with Smith’s age and size, Anthony Amico’s RB Model provided reason for optimism. The final pre-draft rankings nailed Smith as the 11th best prospect. Amico found a predictive signal in breakout age2 and in adjusted all-purpose yards. Smith ranked sixth in the class (fourth among drafted RBs) in adjusted APY, and his breakout age of 20.3 was seventh best in class (fifth among drafted RBs). What hurt him was his scouting grade (18th), so the fact that the Falcons view him so highly is a very good sign.
Although Atlanta doesn’t have any snaps up for grabs at the top of the depth chart,3 Smith should have every chance to win a backup role to secure his roster spot. Since both Freeman and Coleman can function as primary ball-carriers, Smith should have an opportunity to see passing-down snaps if either player misses time. And with Coleman potentially leaving in free agency in 2019, Smith could solidify a role as a receiving specialist with potential for more, just as Freeman did when Atlanta drafted him in the fourth round in 2014.
As an undersized player from a small school who wasn’t invited to the combine, it’s an uphill battle for Smith. However, every signal we have so far is positive. He showed good speed and athleticism at his Pro Day, was among the best in class in Workhorse Score and Backfield Dominator rating, broke out at a young age, and his 200-pound weight from his Pro Day gives him a league average BMI.
Smith’s college production is elite, and this level of overall efficiency is rare in a back with 140 career receptions. As noted in our Bowl Preview:
Among players who have averaged at least five yards per carry and 10 yards per reception, only D.J. Foster and Charles Sims have caught more passes since 2000.
Although his chances to be a Year 1 contributor are low, his chances of sticking on the roster are good. That makes him a reasonable dynasty stash, especially for Freeman or Coleman owners, and a target in leagues where owners may be slow to adjust to Smith’s unexpectedly high draft stock.