Should You Buy Low on Torrey Smith in Fantasy Football?

Is Smith being undervalued despite his up-and-down fantasy performances?

Every year, as players change teams, there is a ton of speculation about how that player will fit into his new offense, what his role will be, how he slots in with the other pieces, and we, as a fantasy football community, move that player up or down from their previous year largely based on that speculation.

Such is the case this year with Torrey Smith.

Moving from the Ravens to the 49ers, Smith saw his fantasy football draft stock has plummet. In standard leagues, over the last month his average draft position went from the middle of the 10th round up to the top of the 10th, and then back down to the middle of the 11th round according to Fantasy Football Calculator. Since free agency opened on March 10 of this year, Smith has fallen nearly five full rounds in standard leagues.

The question is: with where Smith’s stock is now, is the market right in selling on him, or could Smith represent a huge value for fantasy owners?

In Defense of Torrey Smith

Last year, Torrey Smith was one of the most effective receivers in the league according to our numbers. Using our signature metric, Net Expected Points (NEP), we can measure how much a player added to or detracted from his team’s scoring expectation on any given play. More information can be found in our glossary, but the bottom line is we use NEP to see how much a player is helping his team get in position to score points.

Using the Reception NEP per target metric, essentially measuring how much damage any player did with the balls thrown his way, Smith ranked ninth of 84 players with at least 48 receptions (three per game) last year with a score of 0.88. That’s better than his teammate Steve Smith (0.63)last year, who ranked 44th in that metric, and new teammate Anquan Boldin (0.73), who ranked 29th. Per target, Smith was more effective than the guy he shared the field with last year and more effective than the guy he will share the field with this year.

According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Smith is currently the 50th wide receiver off the board. He ranks better on ESPN, where he is currently the 35th wide receiver off the board, and on Yahoo, he is 42nd (though Yahoo!’s ADP still includes Jordy Nelson and Kelvin Benjamin ahead of Smith, so it’s fair to say he was going off between 38th and 40th near the end of draft season for purposes of this article).

Currently, we are projecting Torrey Smith as the number 25 wide receiver, so regardless of where you are drafting, it seems Smith has quite a bit of value to offer, but we can dig even deeper on those numbers.

We currently are projecting Smith for 947 yards and 5.8 touchdowns. Obviously, you can’t have a fraction of a touchdown, so in the interest of being conservative, let’s round down to five touchdowns (though our numbers put him closer to six). 947 yards and five touchdowns would give Smith 124 points, which last year would have tied him for 28th in standard leagues among wide receivers.

Our projections do represent a huge regression in touchdowns scored (from 11 last year down to five or six), but even still, Smith should represent a good value in standard leagues. He would perform between seven and 10 spots better than his draft position on ESPN or Yahoo, and nearly 25 slots better than his draft position from Fantasy Football Calculator.

But, let’s take this a bit further. Let’s assume the regression on touchdowns is correct, and bring Smith down to his receiving yards of 2014 -- from our projected 947 down to his 767 yards last year. In other words, let’s assume he has the same year as 2014, but without the absurd number of touchdowns. His 767 yards and five touchdowns would be good for 106 fantasy points, which would have slotted him as the 35th wide receiver in standard scoring last year. This would mean, at this hyper conservative estimate for Smith, he would return value in ESPN leagues, he would be a slight value on Yahoo! by three to five spots, and would still represent a 15 slot value on Fantasy Football Calculator.

Based on these numbers, it’s hard to imagine a scenario, barring injury, where Smith does not at least return, if not exceed, value. However, there are a few things cutting against Smith that might force some owners away.

The Case Against Smith

The change of zip codes for Smith puts him in a much worse overall situation. Last year, according to our Adjusted Passing NEP numbers, Baltimore ranked eighth overall. San Francisco, on the other hand, ranked 22nd in the league under that same metric. Basically, these two teams -- even controlling for the strength of opponent (i.e. controlling for the fact that San Francisco has to play Seattle twice) -- these two teams were at the opposite ends of the spectrum in passing effectiveness.

The gulf in overall passing effectiveness was reflected in quarterback play. Of the 37 quarterbacks with at least 200 drop backs, Joe Flacco ranked 11th in Passing NEP per drop back (0.16). Colin Kaepernick (0.04) ranked 24th one slot worse than Brian Hoyer (0.04). Though it should be noted, since entering the league in 2012, Kaepernick bested Flacco in that stat in both 2012 and 2013. In 2014, however, the effectiveness per drop back simply was not there.

When looking at total Passing NEP, among quarterbacks with at least 200 drop backs, Flacco ranked 10th, whereas Kaepernick ranked 20th. Whether you break it down per dropback or on a cumulative basis, Smith is probably going into a situation with a worse quarterback -- or certainly at least into a situation with the worse quarterback last year.

Smith also was pretty untrustworthy for fantasy owners last year. His season represented a roller coaster ride that would make it hard to trust and actually play him. While the overall numbers are fine, ultimately you are making week-to-week decisions. As already alluded to, Smith was very touchdown-dependent last year. His 11 touchdowns put him at seventh overall among wide receivers last year. As we bandy about a lot, touchdowns are mostly random and difficult to predict. That’s why our projections have his touchdowns cut about in half.

The touchdown dependency made certain Smith was pretty inconsistent game-to-game.

Smith had seven games with five or fewer fantasy points last year and three games with one or fewer fantasy points. That said, the highs were high. Smith also had six games with 14 or more fantasy points. That’s 13 total games of the 16 where Smith either had more than 14 or fewer than 5 fantasy points, making him a truly boom or bust player.

Smith never had a 100 yard receiving game last year, and in 10 of his 16 games, he had 60 or fewer receiving yards. He was bailed out, from a fantasy perspective, via touchdown receptions quite often. As a fantasy owner, that’s a tough pill to swallow. Smith might have helped you win a few games last year, but he definitely also killed you from time to time.

This lack of consistency is a frightening prospect if you have Torrey Smith on your roster. When you break down the decision to start or sit Torrey Smith each week, it’s going to be tough to stomach the decision either way. As a fantasy owner, owning a player like Smith is a tough thing to do, and the reality of the situation is that while the overall numbers might be solid, during the season you are probably in for a roller coaster ride.


What should fantasy owners do with Torrey Smith?

On the whole, it’s likely that Smith is probably a little bit undervalued in most leagues -- even a conservative estimate has him meeting or beating his draft day expectations. That said, the actual process of owning Smith will be a nightmare. He is very inconsistent and had to rely on touchdown production last year to salvage a lot of weeks. That’s a scary stock to buy, but if you have the stomach to take a risk week-to-week, you might be handsomely rewarded at Smith’s current asking price.

At the end of the season, Smith will probably beat his draft day stock. The question will be whether you started him enough times, and at the right time, to make it worth your while.