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Ito Smith is a Perfect Zero RB Target

If you’re a long-time reader of RotoViz, you’re very familiar with the Zero-running-back draft strategy. In short, finding high upside RBs at a low price while stockpiling proven receivers in the early rounds is the main goal.

And with his position on the depth chart and a late-round average draft position, Ito Smith is a great target.

As a Prospect

Several Rotoviz writers identified Smith as a potential sleeper in a strong draft class. Devin McIntyre noted that Smith’s size and receiving production projected him in a Theo Riddick-type role. And Blair Andrews had this to say in his 2018 Workhorse RB piece:

Ito Smith is the only FBS player since 2000 to accumulate more than 4,500 career rushing yards and more than 1,200 career receiving yards. Like Lindsay, Smith has displayed his workhorse ability over multiple seasons. Devin McIntyre suggested that Smith’s athleticism might not matter as much because of the production he’s been able to amass at Southern Mississippi. Let’s hope he’s right since Smith also failed to receive a combine invite.

It was a shock that Smith was a combine snub, but when he was drafted to the Falcons, the potential for success became very appealing.

Depth Chart Standing and Vacated Opportunity

Devonta Freeman is still the leader in the backfield, but what was once a crowded position now has an opening for potential volume. Tevin Coleman signed a two-year $8.5 million contract 1 with the San Francisco 49ers, this offseason. With Freeman returning from injury, Smith is the only returning back who received more than 20 carries in 2018. Jeremy Langford and Brian Hill also return from last season.

Coleman averaged 32% of the team’s carries in his four seasons with the Falcons when he primarily served as a backup.  If you exclude his one season as the starter, it drops to 28% of the team’s total.

The Falcons ranked 30th in total rushing attempts in 2018 with 351, but with Freeman injured for the majority of the year, Dan Quinn’s three prior seasons as head coach likely provide a better indication of the offensive goals. In 2015, 2016, and 2017, the team ranked in the top half of the league in rush attempts. Assuming that the team regresses closer to prior seasons, it’s likely fair to project a team total near 400. If Smith only takes on Coleman’s average from the years before 2018, he’d still projected around 112 carries.

Freeman’s History

I’ll start this section by explicitly saying that I’m not one to believe that any player is “injury prone,” but since Zero-RB is built on the premise of antifragility, it’s fair to mention Smith’s potential to see a significant increase in volume due to injury. Freeman has missed at least one game in three out of the last four seasons, including missing 14 games in 2018.

While he’s expected to enter camp fully healthy, he’s returning from a groin and foot injury that cut his 2018 season short.

Rookie Season and Beyond

As a rookie, Smith took advantage of his status as the team’s second RB following the injury to Freeman. He amassed 90 carries which was just over 25% of the team’s total, but he also made his presence felt in the receiving game. He ranked sixth in targets with 32 and converted 84.4% of them into catches.

Efficiency was a problem for Smith as he averaged under 4.0 yards per carry and 5.6 yards per reception, but it’s his potential for improvement with a bigger workload that makes him so intriguing.

Smith made a similar rushing impact to Coleman during their respective rookie campaigns and was a similar level receiver to Freeman.

Following Coleman’s official exit from the team, Smith received a small bump up in draft position, but his price has remained steady ever since. He currently sits with an ADP of 115 at RB46 on Fanball (130 and RB47 on FFPC) and RotoViz ranks him as the RB45 so these prices seem fair. But it’s his potential for volume and proven workhorse ability that makes him a strong target in the tenth round. Should Freeman suffer another injury or fail to fully recover from his 2018 injury, Smith could become a league winner.

Image Credit: Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire.

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  1. with 5.25 million guaranteed  (back)
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