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Third Year Wide Receivers, Reception Trends, and Torrey Smith

TorreySmith

Most of the post-Pitta fallout has centered on Ed Dickson and the running backs, but I’m not so sure if we’re looking in the right place.

Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce and the platter of WR2 options for the Ravens haven’t really had their outlook changed. Ed Dickson is now being a trendy sleeper, but the ceiling isn’t terribly high with him. The most established option on the roster is a 24 year old, former 2nd round pick with 2 seasons as a top 24 option in standard leagues. Out of every player on the roster, Torrey Smith has the most to gain from the extra targets left behind by Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta.

Boldin and Pitta combined for 204 targets in 202, while Smith received 110. Given the lack of a reliable #2, Pitta was deemed to be in for an increase in targets in Boldin’s stead. Now, Smith has to be ready to pick up the slack. As it is prudent to do, we first need to take a look at the WR Sim Score App. Rather than using the projection table, this is the average of Smith’s N+1 comparables.

NAME SEAS AGE WEIGHT GMS TRGS RECS YDS TDS recFPOP YPT
–Average– ———– 24.5 204.8 14.7 7.43 4.25 58.12 0.42 0.06 7.7

Over a 16 game season, that’s a 119 target, 68 catch, 930  yard, 7 touchdown season. In a more limited role, Smith has already topped 8 touchdowns and been around the rate stats, but has yet to see even 7 targets per game. In 2 seasons, Smith has a total of 99 catches. The real question is simple: has this been a function of skill set, or what he was asked to do in Cam Cameron’s simplistic, isolation route offense?

From week 15 on, after Cameron was let go and Jim Caldwell replaced him, Smith had 38 targets for 17 catches, 335  yards, and an average depth of target of 20.2 yards. So, Caldwell didn’t exactly solve the mystery of how to utilize Smith’s talent properly. Bryan Fontaine wrote in ‘The Torrey Smith Hype Train Part Deux‘ that “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.”

Fontaine’s research points out something really important: Smith hasn’t ‘failed’ as intermediate player. He really hasn’t been given the chance. In that case it’s helpful to see what he did while at Maryland. In college, he posted 2 seasons with a better than 60% catch rate. His senior season, he caught 67 balls on 102 targets for 10 yards per target. He proved efficient with a 60% catch rate on passing downs (per Football Study Hall) and a 65% catch rate on standard downs. While not conclusive, Smith’s senior season shows that he doesn’t have to function as a pure deep threat. At some level, he has shown an ability to be a multifaceted player.

Smith’s 4.41 40 yard dash time, 41 inch vertical leap, .41 Dominator Raing, and 44% Redzone TD Rate coming out of college all painted the picture of a player who could contribute at a high level for both the Ravens and fantasy teams. So what have some other receivers of similar stature and situation done? This is a table of of 3rd year wide receivers shorter than 6’1, weighing less than 208 pounds, sorted by the most receptions. The table stops at 20 players, but the full group can be found here.

Games Receiving
Rk Player Year Age Draft Tm G Rec Yds Y/R TD
1 Steve Smith 2009 24 2-51 NYG 16 107 1220 11.40 7
2 Chad Johnson 2003 25 2-36 CIN 16 90 1355 15.06 10
3 Laveranues Coles 2002 25 3-78 NYJ 16 89 1264 14.20 5
4 Steve Smith 2003 24 3-74 CAR 16 88 1110 12.61 7
5 Percy Harvin 2011 23 1-22 MIN 16 87 967 11.11 6
6 Victor Cruz 2012 26 NYG 16 86 1092 12.70 10
7 Kevin Johnson 2001 25 2-32 CLE 16 84 1097 13.06 9
8 Roddy White 2007 26 1-27 ATL 16 83 1202 14.48 6
9 Jerricho Cotchery 2006 24 4-108 NYJ 16 82 961 11.72 6
10 Lee Evans 2006 25 1-13 BUF 16 82 1292 15.76 8
11 Torry Holt 2001 25 1-6 STL 16 81 1363 16.83 7
12 Greg Jennings 2008 25 2-52 GNB 16 80 1292 16.15 9
13 Davone Bess 2010 25 MIA 16 79 820 10.38 5
14 Lance Moore 2008 25 NOR 16 79 928 11.75 10
15 Santana Moss 2003 24 1-16 NYJ 16 74 1105 14.93 10
16 Mike Wallace 2011 25 3-84 PIT 16 72 1193 16.57 8
17 Reggie Wayne 2003 25 1-30 IND 16 68 838 12.32 7
18 Wes Welker 2006 25 MIA 16 67 687 10.25 1
19 Antonio Brown 2012 26 6-195 PIT 13 66 787 11.92 5
20 Koren Robinson 2003 23 1-9 SEA 15 65 896 13.78 4
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/2/2013.

What interested me most was the spike that these players saw in receptions their 3rd season in the league. This table shows the Year 1-Year 3 progression in receptions.

Player Year 1 Receptions Year 2 Year 3
Steve Smith 8 57 107
Chad Johnson 28 69 90
Laveranues Coles 22 59 89
Steve Smith 10 54 88
Percy Harvin 60 71 87
Victor Cruz 0 82 86
Kevin Johnson 66 57 84
Roddy White 29 30 83
Jerricho Cotchery 6 19 82
Lee Evans 48 48 82
Torry Holt 52 82 81
Greg Jennings 45 53 80
Davone Bess 54 76 79
Lance Moore 1 32 79
Santana Moss 2 30 74
Mike Wallace 39 60 72
Reggie Wayne 27 49 68
Wes Welker 0 29 67
Antonio Brown 16 69 66
Koren Robinson 39 78 65

Of that table, 16 of the 20 players matching Smith’s physical profile had a reception increase from year one to year two to year three. Antonio Brown would have made it 17 out of 20 if he wouldn’t have suffered a high ankle sprain in 2012, and Torry Holt only barely missed the cut. That isn’t even a trend I was expecting to see, but after looking at the table, a clear progression of a decent rookie season, good sophomore season and breakout third year shows itself. I still don’t believe in a context-less third year breakout, but when a talented player is put in a situation where they are forced to be relied upon, the fantasy results are going to be positive. Additionally, it would seem that receivers falling in Smith’s physical range take longer to become fully implemented in their respective offenses, or perhaps it takes them longer to be trusted as a number one option because they don’t match the exact physical profile.

It’s worth noting that out out of that table, 12 of the 20 players were drafted in the first 3 rounds of the NFL draft and 7 of those players were first round picks. Receivers of Smith’s size and speed are pretty rare, and have a track record of producing, beyond mere deep threats or decoys. Smith will be asked to play a larger role by the Ravens and I think he’s capable. As a result, you should expect him to play a larger role in the wide receiver fantasy landscape in 2013 and beyond.

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