This post is part of a series of articles where various RotoViz writers name their favorite buy low for dynasty fantasy football, with a look at the 2016 NFL season and beyond. At the conclusion of the series, the authors will get together to rank the various nominations in one final post. In this installment, Anthony Amico discusses his pick, Torrey Smith.
When discussing dynasty buy lows, I think that there are usually two conjectures that we must always assume we are working from:
- The player in question is eligible to be a buy low for a reason. There are (at least publicly held) flaws that this player has.
- It is our job to mitigate those reasons or otherwise give reason to believe those things can change.
So with this in mind, here are the four main objections to Smith, and why I think they are wrong.
He Just Isn’t Good
We have five years of NFL data to work with. Here’s a table that showcases his career numbers.
What we have in Smith is someone who has basically always garnered around 20 percent of his team’s targets. Considering that he has spend four of his five seasons playing with either Anquan Boldin or Steve Smith, I think that is a pretty decent indicator of his talent in itself. And then when we look at what he’s done with those targets, he’s managed to consistently be efficient per target and per reception, while being a WR3 for fantasy purposes. Even in a down year with San Francisco, where the targets were not as plentiful, he managed to be crazy efficient. I would tend to believe that the 49ers were incorrect in using him so little rather than the Ravens being incorrect for using him so much.
He Will Always Be Behind Someone Else in Targets
After being second banana to Boldin in 2015, there is also the question of whether or not this is just Smith’s destiny to never be the top dog. Besides the obvious fact that Smith was the Raven target leader in 2013, he was also withing 10 targets of Boldin as a rookie, and just two as a sophomore. There is also the issue of Boldin being able to maintain his dominance in the 49er pecking order. After an incredibly impressive and consistent career, it did appear that he was finally slowing down in 2015. Boldin recorded his lowest number of yards per target and total yards in a season since 2004. His contract is also completely voidable per Over the Cap, and I don’t think the likes of Quinton Patton and Vance McDonald are world beaters. Unless the team brings in some extra competition in the draft, Smith should have a sizable role going forward.
The SF QBs Aren’t Good Enough
Full disclosure: I am the biggest Chip Kelly fanboy on the face of the planet. That said, I’m expecting the entire 49ers offense, including the QBs, to benefit from his presence. First, let’s address what he has done in the past with QBs.
Nick Foles was basically a mid-range QB1 under Kelly,1 and so bad without him that he was benched for Case Keenum in 2015. But what about Sam Bradford Anthony!? He stunk last year! Did he?
Bradford may be a bad QB, but Kelly got the best out of him last season, and he played well above his career numbers. At this point, I don’t think it’s really debatable that Chip gets the best out of his QBs. So how do the likes of Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert compare to the previous Kelly starters?
If you sort through the table, you can see that Kaepernick owns three of the top five seasons in AYA, TDRT, and INTRT. The best season for all QBs listed was Foles’ 2013 season under Chip, and Gabbert’s 2015 season appears to be competitive in all categories. The moral of the story here is that neither Kaep or Gabbert are worse than what Kelly had to work with in his stint in Philly, and he was able to get those QBs to manage successful offenses that allowed for 2 WR1’s and a WR22 over the last three seasons in PPR leagues.
He Scores All His Points in a Handful of Games
The final objection to Smith is probably his variance in scoring. The prevailing thought around the industry is that Smith puts up a handful of games with monster totals, and then does nothing for the rest of the year. In essence, drafting Smith is a great way to draft bench points since you never really know when he is going to go off. But is this true?
|PPR Points||# Times||%|
The short answer would be yes. Separating scores based on thresholds for WR1, WR2, and WR3 in PPR leagues, we can see that a whopping 60 percent of Smith’s games have fallen below the WR3 cutoff. Even if I take out Smith’s 2015 season, that number only comes down to 55 percent. On the flip side, his next most frequent outcome is to produce a WR1 total, solidifying the belief that Smith is incredibly hit or miss.
My follow up to this though is should it matter? Is there something less valuable to be had from a player who scores (in a simple example) 30 points half of the time and zero points the other half as opposed to 15 points every single week? Fantasy is, after all, a weekly game. However I think that someone like Smith helps you as much as he hurts you, and that probably evens out over the course of the season.
Furthermore, the deeper the league is (i.e. the more WRs you can start), the more likely variance will help your roster. In other words, in a league where I only have to start two WRs, Smith is probably not a great selection, as I won’t be able to play him often, and if he is a weekly starter I will probably be well behind the pack by the end of the year. However, in leagues where I am required to start more players (like an FPC league that allows me to start up to five), Smith is precisely the kind of player to target, as he can provide big WR1 weeks as a WR4 or WR5, and his down weeks fall in line with a lot of other teams’ producers at that position.
With the objections addressed, let’s now look at the potential outcomes for Smith. First, here is how Kelly has targeted his WRs in his three seasons as Eagles head coach.
The first thing that stands out is just how little the WR2 was targeted this past season. That was because after Matthews, the Eagles really struggled finding someone reliable to give targets to, and they filtered between Nelson Agholor, Riley Cooper, and Josh Huff. The 17 percent number in Kelly’s first two years seem like a more reliable floor. Now let’s look at efficiency metrics for both yards and TDs.
Not shown are Matthew’s 2015 YPT of 7.85 and TDRT of .06.3 This gives us a nice range of outcomes for Smith based on the 584 pass attempts the Eagles averaged over the last three seasons.
Strictly based on the historical data from Philly under Chip, we can see that prior top receivers in a Kelly offense have a minimum output of a borderline WR3 and a ceiling of a WR1. I just averaged the numbers together for the middle entry, a solid WR2. When we consider Smith’s career numbers, I would say the most likely outcome probably falls somewhere between the top two options, but even a WR ranked somewhere in the late 20’s or early 30’s is a huge uptick from his WR54 finish this past season.
Smith is the same player he’s been throughout his career, but saw limited targets tank his production in 2015. With Kelly now running the show in San Fran, I’m expecting better QB play and better overall offensive production. As a career WR3, I think we can expect that to be Smith’s floor for 2016, and if he can catch the same lighting in a bottle that DeSean Jackson did in 2013, his upside could be even higher than that. With a dynasty trade value similar to guys like Markus Wheaton and Rueben Randle, Smith is a slam-dunk cheap acquisition for dynasty players this off-season.