The Torrey Smith hype-train should be off the rails at this point of the offseason.
Except it is going nowhere fast.
Anquan Boldin, Smith’s partner in crime the past two seasons, was dealt to San Francisco in March – leaving a gaping hole at the top of the Baltimore depth chart. People with common sense would just assume that Smith is in line for a larger role in his third season as the de facto top receiver. Ozzie Newsome knows a thing or two about putting together championship level teams. It is likely he has a plan to replace Boldin’s production from within and redistribute his targets.
The scouting report on Smith is that he’s a deep threat only. The numbers back that up. He has averaged 3.1 receptions for 53.7 yards and 0.47 touchdowns per game through his first two years in the professional ranks.
A player of Smith’s caliber with a competent quarterback (Flacco is “elite” right?), a track record of success (two top-30 finishes in PPR leagues) and an increased role should be valued more.
Let’s get to the bottom of this:
He’s only a deep threat?
Wrong. Well, mostly wrong.
People will look at the 17.3 yards per catch and think he’s only running nine-routes. The numbers tell a different story, but still highlight an area where Smith does need to improve on – the immediate route tree.
With the help of the advanced data at Pro Football Focus, here is how Smith fared on routes he was targeted on greater than 20 yards downfield versus routes under 20 yards.
|Greater than 20 yards||34.5||44||13||1|
|Less than 20 yards||6.8||61||36||5|
Talk about an extreme case.
His average depth of target (aDOT) was 18.4 yards downfield. The problem is that only 19 of his targets (18%) came in the 10 to 19 yard range – the rest were under 10 or greater than 20 yards. When Joe Flacco targeted Smith deep, he essentially told him to go long – really long. While he only caught 30 percent of those deep targets, he only dropped one catchable pass. That is a stark contrast to his five drops under 20 yards. It appears focus was an issue there – the depth of throw on those drops was only 7.4 yards (1, 4, 10, 11 and 11).
Separating his deep targets from his intermediate targets shows that he is at least average in that area. And that doesn’t account for any improvement going into his third year. I’ve heard something about receivers breaking out in their third year before. Someone should write an article on that topic sometime.
I mentioned before that Boldin was traded to the 49ers, leaving a void of 109 targets (or 21% of 2012 targets) that need to go to someone.
Let’s assume for a second that the offense will look roughly the same as it has the past two seasons. Given that Flacco will still attempt around 537 passes, it is safe to say those targets still need to be accounted for. The front office did not bring any additional players of significance in free agency and the NFL Draft, so the current roster will have to handle the increased workload.
Here is how the total targets for the Ravens broke down by position for the 2012 season, and then in just Weeks 15-17 after Jim Caldwell took over as offensive coordinator. A few percentages shifted in the smaller sample size, but nothing of coincidence to think a serious shift in philosophy occurred.
|2012 Season||Weeks 15-17|
|Pos||Targets||Target %||Pos||Targets||Target %|
With established receiving options in Ray Rice at running back and Dennis Pitta at tight end – let’s conservatively give 50 percent of Boldin’s targets to each of those positions. That leaves the remaining amount for the wide receiver group.
Half of Boldin’s targets (49%) came with him lined up in the slot last year with a modest 11.3 aDOT. At his age, he was more of a possession receiver that moved the chains.
Given that Smith is the lone established player at the position (Sorry, Jacoby), it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get a 25 percent bump in targets. That would increase his targets from 6.5 per game to over 8 – giving him a chance to have more consistent fantasy production.
The Ravens need Smith to run some of Boldin’s intermediate routes.
Tommy Streeter is a player to watch to pick up some of the remaining slack.
The WR Similarity Score App is a must for any serious fantasy owner.
For Smith, I ran a series of comparable players on his 2012 and found some interesting results. I’ve omitted some of the names so that you can check out the app for yourself.
One of the most interesting comparisons on the list, from a short-term perspective, was Peerless Price. In 2002, Price had a career year with 94 catches for 1,252 and nine touchdowns. That was good for seventh among wide receivers in standard scoring leagues.
It bodes well for Smith’s development on intermediate routes that several of his comps like Crabtree and Ward are considered possession receivers.
Also, Smith is in some good company when we look at second-year wide receivers since 2008 that have posted at least seven touchdowns and over 17 yards per reception:
It doesn’t appear Smith is a one-trick pony.
Maybe fantasy owners are feeling burnt from thinking Smith was going to take a huge step forward last year. He did not post top-10 numbers like many thought he could, but as happens often with breakout candidates, sometimes we are a year early.
Fantasy owners are valuing Smith like he won’t take a step forward and are not pricing in his increase in opportunity. That is a mistake.
Here is what his numbers could like this year using his career rates with a modest 13% increase in targets, or one additional target per game:
His ceiling puts him strongly in consideration for the top-10 at a top-25 price.
And if you miss out on Smith in your draft, you can always grab Mike Williams or Jeremy Maclin several rounds later using our ADP Arbitrage app.
Bryan Fontaine is the Dynasty Senior Editor for PFF Fantasy. You can follow him on Twitter at @Bryan_Fontaine.