Can Alex Smith Finish as a Top-5 Quarterback in Fantasy Football?

After the Kansas City Chiefs traded up in the 2017 NFL Draft to select quarterback Patrick Mahomes, it appeared as though time was running out on the Alex Smith era. But through five games this season, the veteran signal caller hasn't played like a man in fear of losing his job.

Instead, he's been playing the best football of his career and is among the elites when it comes to fantasy football production. Can he keep the good vibes going?

The 2017 Season So Far

Prior to this year, Smith had never posted a single-season performance where he threw for more than 3,502 yards or 23 passing touchdowns. However, with just five games in the books for Kansas City, it looks like he's primed to breeze past both those marks. The below table shows his numbers in various categories, along with his rank among other quarterbacks in the league.

Category Number NFL Rank
Passing Yards 1,391 3rd
Passing Touchdowns 11 T-3rd
Touchdown Rate 7.0% 2nd
Quarterback Rating 125.8 1st

This is a tremendous start for most signal callers, but when we consider how much better his current touchdown rate and quarterback rating is compared to his career averages (3.9% and 86.6, respectively), it puts his production into even greater perspective.

These stats only show some of the story behind Smith's early-season success. If we look at his efficiency by using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, we can see how good he's been on a per-play basis. The below table compares his Passing NEP per drop back and Passing Success Rate -- which is the percentage of passes that result in a positive NEP -- against the current league averages.

As a frame of reference, these rankings for Smith are among the 15 quarterbacks that have at least 170 drop backs this season.

Category Number Rank NFL Average
Passing NEP Per Drop Back 0.33 1st 0.10
Passing Success Rate 52.57% 1st 45.64%

Clearly, Smith is out-performing just about everyone else at the position, but it's not just him arm that's shining in 2017. The veteran can also add fantasy points with his legs. While there are only seven quarterbacks with 20-plus rushing attempts this season, he's once again at the top of the heap -- and well over the league average -- with regard to Rushing NEP per carry and Rushing Success Rate.

Category Number Rank Average
Rushing NEP Per Carry 0.35 3rd -0.01
Rushing Success Rate 65.00% 1st 39.91%

We already knew that the Chiefs' signal caller was having a great year, but it looks like the advanced metrics back it up.

Moving Forward

Following such a dominant five-week stretch of play, what does the rest of the season hold for Smith?

Our projections peg him to finish as the QB8 once the regular season comes to a close. And when looking at his remaining opponents in fantasy-relevant weeks, he has an event split of teams ranking in the top half and bottom half of the league when measured by fantasy points allowed per game to quarterbacks. However, he also has five games against defenses that currently reside in the bottom seven, per our metrics.

Opponent FPG vs. QB Rank Adjusted Defensive NEP Per Play Rank
Steelers 31 8
Raiders 15 30
Broncos 16 1
Cowboys 8 28
Giants 10 13
Bills 30 5
Jets 14 26
Raiders 15 30
Chargers 17 23
Dolphins 23 10

The most inviting matchups come against the Oakland Raiders and the Dallas Cowboys. Despite being middle of the road in terms of points allowed to quarterbacks, the Raiders defense has been the third-worst unit on a per-play basis. Meanwhile, the Cowboys have allowed multiple passing touchdowns in each of their last four games, with only the Odell Beckham-less Eli Manning failing to post at least 18 fantasy points against them.

The rankings in the above table are important, but should also be pointed out that Smith's most recent two games played came against the Washington Redskins and Houston Texans -- the second- and seventh-ranked teams on defense, per our metrics. All KC's leader did was throw for a combined 617 yards with 4 touchdowns while adding 75 yards and another score on the ground via 12 carries. Those performances averaged out to 27.1 fantasy points. No big deal.

At his current pace, Smith would finish the season with 4,451 passing yards, 35 touchdowns, and 372 fantasy points. Regression is certainly likely to hit here -- after all, Aaron Rodgers scored "only" 365 fantasy points last year -- but this once again shows just how good he's been. Given the hot start he's enjoyed and a handful of favorable matchups left on the schedule, he has a decent shot at continuing what could be a career season.