The Case for Torrey Smith

Going into last week, the official Money in the Banana Stand entries were 42-4 in the NFFC. And then the unthinkable happened. Kenny Britt … done for the year.

How do you replace a player like Kenny Britt?

I took the first step a week ago by bidding aggressively on David Nelson and Denarius Moore in any leagues where they were available. It’s always important to address injuries preemptively. If you wait until you actually need a player, the odds you’ll find the right fit on the wire that week are slim.

This week I employed the same strategy for Torrey Smith. Most of the websites I perused suggested Torrey Smith would be the No. 1 waiver pickup, but there was a secondary implication. He would be the No. 1 pickup only because every league would feature at least one rube who didn’t understand Smith’s performance was a fluke.

I’ll admit to a certain amount of initial skepticism myself. Torrey Smith had such a bad training camp that the Ravens traded for Lee Evans. He was so bad in practice the week before the game that reports out of Baltimore suggested he might play behind Tandon Doss and LaQuan Williams. So when he came out and turned his first three receptions into TDs, it was a case of lightning striking thrice. And if the universe has ever provided us a hard and fast rule of nature, it’s this: Lightning never strikes four times in the same place.

Let’s agree on two things.

1. Torrey Smith will not put up a similar performance this season.

2. Torrey Smith will never score that many fantasy points in a game for the rest of his career.

I strongly believe both of those to be true, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that one or both of them is false. After all, when Miles Austin broke out with an otherworldly 10 catches for 250 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Chiefs in Week 4 of the 2009 season, you could have gotten nearly perfect odds against him putting up a 6-171-2 line the following Sunday.

When I put together my preseason draft board, I heavily emphasize historical comparisons for players. It seems like a no-brainer, but most fantasy experts ignore this truism. Two players with an identical number of fantasy points in Year One can have very different historical comps and thus very different projections for Year Two (and this is true for players with Round 1 ADPs, not just niche players).

I do the same thing when bidding on free agent pickups. It may seem hard to believe but the historical comps for David Nelson and Denarius Moore a week ago suggested there was a 75% likelihood that they’d be valuable players going forward. That’s an astonishing probability of return for a free agent.

This week the same is true for Torrey Smith.

In finding Smith’s comp, we’ll focus on players who caught 5 or more passes, accrued 100 or more receiving yards, and scored a TD. The only criterion that Smith barely meets is the receptions. He blew past 100 yards and got in the end zone three times. We will limit our search to rookies playing in one of the first 6 weeks of the season. We want to know if a player who explodes in the first month and a half will be valuable the rest of the season.

As you can see, very few receivers have such a game and return to obscurity. In fact, in the last 10 years, only Josh Reed has done it and then failed to be a useful fantasy asset going forward.

Player Date Tm Opp Result W# Rec Yds TD
Torrey Smith 2011-09-25 BAL STL W 37-7 3 5 152 3
A.J. Green 2011-09-18 CIN DEN L 22-24 2 10 124 1
Denarius Moore 2011-09-18 OAK BUF L 35-38 2 5 146 1
Hakeem Nicks 2009-10-18 NYG NOR L 27-48 6 5 114 1
Jeremy Maclin 2009-10-11 PHI TAM W 33-14 5 6 142 2
Eddie Royal 2008-09-08 DEN OAK W 41-14 1 9 146 1
Dwayne Bowe 2007-09-30 KAN SDG W 30-16 4 8 164 1
Greg Jennings 2006-10-08 GNB STL L 20-23 5 5 105 1
Marques Colston 2006-10-01 NOR CAR L 18-21 4 5 132 1
Roy E. Williams 2004-09-26 DET PHI L 13-30 3 9 135 2
Andre Johnson 2003-09-21 HOU KAN L 14-42 3 7 102 2
Anquan Boldin 2003-09-07 ARI DET L 24-42 1 10 217 2
Josh Reed 2002-09-15 BUF MIN W 45-39 2 8 110 1
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 10/2/2011.

The counterargument to the Smith hoopla is that he won’t even be the starter in two weeks. The Ravens didn’t trade for Lee Evans just to put him on the bench. Of course, by that logic, the Ravens would never have acquired Evans, because they didn’t use a highly valuable second round pick on Smith just to put him on the bench. That they quickly moved to find a player who could produce suggests the Ravens are highly motivated to field a good team this season and will base their personnel decisions on production (you’d think this would be true for all teams, but the Thomas Jones Fiasco and the on-going Darrius Heyward-Bey Experience offer two easy examples that it is not).

Therefore it’s worth looking at Evans’ profile. As you can see, it’s significantly worse than that of Smith. Almost all WRs who had similar age 28 or 29 seasons were finished as impact players. Randy Moss with the Raiders is the only exception.

Games Receiving
Player Year Age Tm G Rec Yds TD
Lee Evans 2010 29 BUF 13 37 578 4
Michael Jenkins 2010 28 ATL 11 41 505 2
Roy E. Williams 2010 29 DAL 15 37 530 5
Antonio Bryant 2009 28 TAM 13 39 600 4
Lee Evans 2009 28 BUF 16 44 612 7
Roy E. Williams 2009 28 DAL 15 38 596 7
Patrick Crayton 2008 29 DAL 16 39 550 4
Chris Chambers 2007 29 SDG 10 35 555 4
Ernest Wilford 2007 28 JAX 16 45 518 3
Randy Moss 2006 29 OAK 13 42 553 3
Cedrick Wilson 2006 28 PIT 15 37 504 1
Brian Finneran 2005 29 ATL 16 50 611 2
Brandon Stokley 2005 29 IND 15 41 543 1
Marty Booker 2004 28 MIA 15 50 638 1
Peerless Price 2004 28 ATL 16 45 575 3
Jerome Pathon 2003 28 NOR 16 44 578 4
James Thrash 2003 28 PHI 16 49 558 1
Bobby Engram 2002 29 SEA 15 50 619 0
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 10/2/2011.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Torrey Smith fails to deliver value on the bids I placed on him, but I’d be shocked if it’s because he sits on the bench behind Lee Evans.

In addition to his historical comps at the NFL level, there are a few peripheral reasons to believe in Smith. First, the Fantasy Douche has developed a means of projecting NFL fantasy points based on collegiate production that puts Smith on the same level as A.J. Green and well ahead of Julio Jones.

Second, Smith ran a 4.43 40 and recorded a 41 inch vertical at the Combine. Those numbers are just slightly behind Jones and well ahead of Green. Therefore, it’s possible to conclude that a projection system which combined collegiate production and athletic measurables would forecast Smith as a superior rookie receiver to Green and Jones (perhaps even by a considerable margin).

And finally, Smith ran 42 routes last Sunday as I detailed in my Advanced Targets article for Pro Football Focus. Looking at targets has become the en vogue way to determine WR opportunity. If targets demonstrate the likelihood of future receptions, pass routes give a strong indication of future targets. That Smith ran so many patterns in a game the Ravens had in hand throughout is a very positive indicator of future value.

It also doesn’t hurt that Smith is evidently a spectacular human being. Fantasy football is about winning, but it’s also about the visceral thrill of watching football. When I’m rooting for players on Sundays, I really enjoy cheering for people like Torrey Smith.

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