Is Forgetting About Torrey Smith a Mistake in Fantasy Football This Year?

Smith has always been a weekly nightmare, but isn't an 11th-round draft cost too cheap?

Oh, trust me, I get it.

I owned Torrey Smith last year. I even suggested that you should do the same.

I'm not saying that I was right, but I wasn't terribly wrong. He still finished as the WR29 in PPR leagues. That's not unusable.

But it does call into question a lot about how we evaluate year-end data, a whale too big to hunt in an article about a newly-traded receiver joining the 22nd-most efficient passing offense in the league, according to our schedule-adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play metric.

NEP, by the way, is how we tend to value players and team performance at numberFire. It indicates how far above or below expectation level a team or player performs.

Basically, turning in big plays when expected scoring is low (backed up in your own territory or facing a long third down) does wonders to an NEP. Sounds like something Smith does well, though, yeah?

Smith's Metrics

Smith has been one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL for a few years now, and his per-target efficiency remained near the top of the league in 2014.

His Reception NEP per target of 0.88 ranked eighth among the 62 receivers who saw at least 75 targets last season. His cumulative Reception NEP (80.96), which usually correlates well to fantasy points, ranked 25th. Sounds about right.

Plagued by a low catch rate (he caught 53.26% of his targets, which ranked 53rd in the group) by the very nature of his boom-or-bust role, Smith's weekly fantasy scoring spiked up and down harder than a Rob Gronkowski touchdown celebration.

In nine games last year, Smith posted a reception of at least 20 yards. He also had five games with three or fewer targets.


Is the Ceiling Worth the Floor?

Look, I can't sit here and tell you that Smith's weekly upside makes those zero-target games palatable. Not unless I use math first.

The funny thing about such a sporadic scorer is that Smith's PPR points per game scores have been tightly bound in the past four seasons. His per-game scores, working from 2011 through 2014, have been 11.3, 11.5, 12.6, and 12.0. But per-game scores can't explain a player such as Smith.

Based on his game logs, we can determine a realistic range where roughly 11 of his 16 annual games should land (based on the 68-95-99.7 rule). This indicates what we should expect his floor and ceiling to be -- without being extreme and pointing to any 40-point outbursts as something we could reasonably expect just because he did it once. (He's never actually hit 40 fantasy points in a game.)

Here are his per-game numbers, his floor, and his ceiling -- as well as his ranks in all three among players who played at least eight games in that given season and secured at least five points per contest played.

Torrey SmithPPR Pts/GmRank68CI LowRank68CI HighRank

Well then. I never really expected that.

For as up-and-down as his scoring can be, Smith never actually sustained a very high realistic ceiling. Sure, he can give you a 30-point outburst, but he's not racking up 25-point contests with as much ease as I assume he would have.

(I mean, Roddy White (20.9) had a higher realistic ceiling than Smith did last year. Yikes!)

Smith has really just been no ice cream and all headache (can we make that a thing people say?) in his career, but I'm still not off of him entirely in 2015.

A Brighter Tomorrow?

So, here's the weird thing. The fantasy football community was skeptical of Smith last season, based on his average draft position (ADP). That's an understatement this year.

His current ADP, based on mock draft data from is 131st overall (middle of the 11th-round in a 12-team draft). He's the 51st receiver being drafted. He's going after four defenses and Percy Harvin.

He's not that bad. Not even close. His ADP elsewhere isn't quite so low, but if he really is slipping into the 10th or 11th round? Sign me up -- again.

Our algorithms project Smith to finish the season as the 27th-best fantasy receiver, which is where he has lived in his career, ranging from 23rd to 29th his entire NFL tenure. That certainly doesn't make him an obvious, weekly starter, but that's significantly better than his draft cost.

He's projected for 61 receptions, 948 yards, and 6 touchdowns. The production will be sporadic, and the weekly performances won't be as top-heavy as you might like, but for a proven player with some modest upside and a clear path to targets?

Yeah, I think maybe that's a better buy than a team defense in the 11th round.