Reception Perception: Week 2

Matt Harmon uses his Reception Perception methodology to illustrate why it isn't yet time to sell on Torrey Smith

Every week I’ll use my methodology for evaluating wide receivers, Reception Perception, in order to look for clues about at least one fantasy performance. We’ll examine wide receivers to buy or sell, give up on or stick with. In this edition, we’ll take a look at the week one disappointment provided by Torrey Smith.

With the arrival of Gary Kubiak, all Baltimore offensive players were supposed to receive a boost. Many were excited about the effect Kubiak would have on Torrey Smith’s fantasy value. Smith is expected to breakout as the x-receiver in this offense, a position usually peppered with favorable targets. Players like Andre Johnson, Rod Smith and Pierre Garcon have all excelled in this role. Torrey Smith did not get off to a hot start in carrying on the tradition in week one.

Despite an eye-pooping 62 passing attempts by Joe Flacco, Torrey Smith recorded a meager three catches for 50 yards. He was severely out-paced statistically by the older Steve Smith—who was believed to be in a less profitable position target-wise. This week one outing was a disappointment for the fantasy owners expecting Torrey Smith to outperform his fifth or sixth-round draft position. Let’s take a look at the Reception Perception data to find out just what happened to Torrey Smith in week one.

Alignment data

The first order of business is to dispel the notion that Torrey Smith somehow lost the top of the pecking order to Steve Smith. Torrey Smith still lined up outside, and on the line of scrimmage far more often than not. With 83% of his snaps occurring on the line of scrimmage, its clear Torrey Smith is still the x-receiver on this offense. Historical precedence indicates that most of the targets, yards and receptions should follow.

Most all of Torrey Smith’s Reception Perception data from week one indicates he can make good on those.

Route analysis

 

Torrey Smith is one of the faster players in the NFL, and a fantastic deep threat. So, it makes sense that the Ravens assigned him go routes on 22% of his 59 total routes from week one. Doing so allows the potential for big plays, but it also provides more room for the rest of the offense. Although it did not come to fruition last week, a deep threat helps a running game. A player like Smith also opens things up for his teammates like Steve Smith and Dennis Pitta (10 catches in week one). It just didn’t do much for Torrey Smith’s value against the Bengals, nor did it really prevent the Ravens’ offense from being pretty poor. These propositions are always about fifty-fifty, so there will be weeks where these results look better.

The rest of Smith’s route tree percentages feature much more efficient patterns and ones providing easier throws. It makes sense to get a player such as this running slants and posts, where he can use his speed to separate cleanly. Smith can also fly open on curls and comebacks to present a good target for his quarterback.

A deeper look at Reception Perception’s newest data addition provides a deeper look at just how well Smith performed on each route:

 

(SRVC denotes success rate versus coverage for each route. PTS indicates how many PPR fantasy points a receiver earned on each particular route)

We already knew the fantasy output was limited. The PTS just illustrates that, and where it came from. Smith made a catch on a curl route that bore 2.5 PTS, one on a comeback for two PTS and another on a post for 3.5 PTS.

The SRVC metric provides some context for how things can get better. The only routes where Smith posted a less than 50% SRCV were the nines and “others”. For all other patterns, Smith recorded at least a 75% SRVC. The routes highlighted in the percentage chart that Smith ran plenty of times, but didn’t catch many passes on were the slant, post, curl and comeback. The results chart highlights that he was indeed running those just as effectively as he was frequently.

It would be in the Ravens best interest to target and prioritize Torrey Smith when he runs those routes. Perhaps they were, but the quarterback just wasn’t executing. Joe Flacco was wildly inaccurate this game, and struggled with his decisiveness. The Super Bowl winning quarterback abandoned his first read—usually Torrey Smith—to search for better options far too quickly. Perhaps Flacco is so used to having poor pass protection, as he did in 2013, that he is accustomed to not letting plays develop. That sounds like a fixable issue, but no one can know for sure. Flacco’s jerky eyes really hindered Torrey Smith in this game. Even on quick-hitting routes such as the slant, Flacco was usually on to a new read by the time Smith was wide open in the middle of the field. Smith needs Flacco to improve at least an iota on his play from week one to meet his statistical potential.

If Baltimore is able to get Torrey Smith involved in the passing game on the routes he ran well, there’s a lot of fantasy potential. His involvement was more of the issue, not his performance:

 

A number one receiver should be targeted more than 11.9% of the time when they run 59 passing routes. Despite Joe Flacco attempting 62 passes, Smith only garnered seven targets and hauled in three receptions. He did also drop a difficult deep pass, but that was his only catching misstep. It’s also worth noting that Smith slipped at least four times (by my count) during this game while running a route. Such an issue is not something that is a regular for Smith, indicating even more of a fluky factor surrounding this game and his involvement.

The whole thing feels like an anomaly. Flacco’s pass attempts should come down in the future, but Smith’s targets and receptions per route should spike. Smith was doing his job to beat the opposing defense.

Success rate versus coverage data

 

Torrey Smith maintained positive success in both his work against man and zone coverage. Smith was open on 63% of his 27 attempts against man coverage. He went against zones on 31 attempts, and beat them with a 74.2% success rate.

More often than not in week one, Torrey Smith was open and a reasonable target for Flacco to hit. It just didn’t happen this game. That does not mean it will not in the future. Smith is still a good player in a profitable situation. Nothing from week one changes that.

Going forward

Many believe that week one was a conformation of what Torrey Smith is as a player, especially after his letdown 2013 season. The book around him is that he’s a deep threat, but not a complete number one receiver.

The week one Reception Perception data indicates that Torrey Smith has developed quite nicely. He faced a good Cincinnati defense, and he did his job. The offense and the quarterback just did not give him the chance to show it with fantasy production. That’s where the possible tipping point lies for fantasy owners. Sticking with Torrey Smith means you are committing to Joe Flacco, and the Ravens offense, showing better than they did last week. We’ve seen on many occasions that is not a sure bet. Investing in Smith is an act of tying yourself to Flacco. At the very least, that’s an uncomfortable proposition.

Nevertheless, I’d still recommend you hold on Smith. He’ll still be an every week WR2 with the upside of a top-12 option when his big play ability rises to the top. He’s a full go for the Thursday night game against the Steelers, who secondary isn’t much better than the group that was regularly toasted in 2013. Cleveland just didn’t provide a player who could show that last week. If the Torrey Smith owner in your league is the panicking type, this might be the perfect time for a buy-low kind of trade offer.