Every season has its share of hyped players, and one of those hyped players over the past two years has been Torrey Smith. Smith never really broke out, but he did finish 23rd and 20th in fantasy points among wide receivers in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
Now that nearly every fantasy owner who liked Smith's potential has been rewarded with just good-not-great production, people are willing to pass on him in favor for some other high-upside players or some safer options. That's part of why Smith is being drafted as the 26th receiver this year, nestled somewhere near the middle of the sixth round.
The potential upside of players like Cordarrelle Patterson (drafted as the 19th receiver at 4.05), Michael Floyd (23th, 5.06), Percy Harvin (22nd, 5.06), and T.Y. Hilton (24th, 5.08) have drafters' attention before Smith.
Veteran receivers are also going off the board just before Smith, despite injury concerns already at this point in the year. Andre Johnson (18th, 4.10), DeSean Jackson (21st, 5.03), and Jeremy Maclin (25th, 6.01) are more established names being picked up before the Ravens' pass-catcher.
It's hard to knock those picks if you aren't a Smith fan, and our math really isn't. Per our fantasy football cheat sheet, Smith is our 30th receiver in non-PPR formats, and just the 85th-best player sorted by FireFactor, which ranks players based on their value over replacement-level players.
Smith's ADP is a full round lower than it was last year. So is now the time to invest, or is Smith destined to remain a fringe WR2 option in fantasy?
The Status Quo?
Our cheat sheet projects Smith to rack up 65.39 receptions for 979.89 yards and 4.62 touchdowns. He had 65 receptions and 4 touchdowns last season to go along with 1,128 yards, suggesting there's not much of an improvement expected for the former Maryland Terrapin.
If you look solely at raw production, then you'll see that a lack of improvement has sort of become Smith's modus operandi. Here are his basic stats from his first three years in the league.
Smith had a noticeable uptick in in receptions and yards this past year compared to his first two seasons, but he was more heavily targeted. In fact, he ranked 16th in targets in 2013. He was 31st in 2012 and 43rd in 2011.
Luckily for you, this is numberFire, and we can sift through the volume-dependent stats and provide some real insight into Smith's production and whether it actually improved or if it was just a result of the volume boost. Here are Smith's relevant Net Expected Points (NEP) marks in his three years in the league.
|Year||Rec NEP||Target NEP||Rec NEP/Target||Catch Rate||Rec Success Rate|
Despite a 50% drop in touchdown receptions in 2013, Smith's season-long productivity improved, evidenced by his increased Reception NEP. He ranked 16th among all receivers last season in Reception NEP, by the way. Also, despite elevated target totals, Smith's Reception NEP per target improved incrementally and his catch rate elevated, too.
It looks as though Smith is a fairly competent receiver, so what's holding back his breakout potential?
Well, firstly, his Reception NEP per target was just 18th among the 37 receivers with at least 100 targets last year. That indicates that there are a sufficient amount of passes thrown his way on which Smith just doesn't convert. Nothing evidences that quite like his catch rate in 2013 (47.45%).
That was 37th out of the 37 receivers with over 100 targets.
Smith, though, is a deep threat despite being heavily-targeted in the Baltimore offense. He was targeted on deep routes more than any other receiver with at least 35 receptions last season. So is a low catch rate a terrible sign, or is it an unavoidable problem of being a down-the-field option and also a primary target in an offense?
Well, of the 37 players with 100 or more targets, there were some big names who had bottom-10 catch rates.
|Player||Rec||Rec NEP||Targets||Target NEP||Rec NEP/Tar||CR||SR|
In the table above, "CR" is "Catch Rate" while "SR" is "Success Rate"
What separates Smith from these players then? After all, his Reception NEP per target (0.71) was very comparable to A.J. Green's (0.72) and Vincent Jackson's (0.72).
With only four receiving touchdowns last year, there's a good place to start looking: the red zone.
Trouble in the Red Zone?
We know Smith can go over the top quite frequently, but if he can't produce in the red zone, then his fantasy potential and overall potential as a well-rounded receiver is pretty capped. But Smith was actually better in the red zone than Josh Gordon last year, and wasn't too far off the mark from Green and Jackson.
|2013 RZ Stats||Receptions||Targets||Catch Rate||TD||TD/Rec||TD/Tar|
If you rule out Calvin Johnson, then Smith compares well to the high-volume, low catch rate receivers of 2013. Of course this list is purposive and exclusive, for it matches up Smith with just the players who had similar drop rates and similar target totals, but these are some of the league's elite receivers, and Smith stacks up well with their red zone production.
And there's no sense in looking deeper into Torrey Smith's red zone production compared to Calvin Johnson's, right? Well, check out Smith's 2012 red zone stats against Johnson's 2013.
|RZ Stats||Season||Receptions||Targets||Catch Rate||TD||TD/Rec||TD/Tar|
I'd never confuse a Corvette (Calvin) with a Buick Skylark (Smith), but Smith has shown the ability to produce in the red zone at an impressive rate. It just happened that Marlon Brown stole all of that production last season. Brown had an astounding 7 touchdowns on 9 receptions and 13 targets, which was one reception shy of Megatron's exact 2013 red zone production.
Brown's role appears to be diminished with Dennis Pitta back and Steve Smith in town. Red zone targets wouldn't be guaranteed to Torrey, but he's proven that he can take advantage near the goal line in addition to making an impact in the vertical passing game.
How Smith Can Make the Jump
Last year, Joe Flacco was bad. Really, really bad. But JJ Zachariason discussed how Gary Kubiak could help turn things around in the passing game this year. If Flacco can manage a semblance of efficiency, then Smith would be in a position to improve on his stats for, really, the first time in his career.
He already finished as the 20th-best fantasy receiver last season despite a very poor passing campaign from Baltimore - the team finished 24th in Adjusted Passing NEP per play. He's now being drafted as the 26th receiver despite never finishing lower than 23rd in fantasy points at the position.
It's easy to get excited about the new crop of high-upside receivers being drafted around Smith's ADP, and it's understandable to prefer the more established veterans going before Smith, too. But Smith is a rare player with a surprisingly useful floor year in and year out and who possesses the tools to break inside the top-15 if he can add a few more of those red zone scores to his big play potential in an offense that should be in a position to outproduce the Ravens of 2013.