They say people have long memories. In general that's true, but when it comes to fantasy football the majority of people become short-term thinkers. Their memories stretch just far enough back to remember the latest season, but not far beyond that.
That is often driven by the fact the NFL is a league whose mantra is 'Well, what have you done for me lately?' but adopting such a short term attitude means that we're always on the look out for the next big thing, when the next big thing might actually be the slightly smaller thing from two years ago that we forgot existed.
Enter Torrey Smith.
Smith came out in 2011 and was drafted by the Ravens in the 2nd round. There was talk, including from well respected analysts such as Mel Kiper, that Smith had the talent to be a first-rounder if he'd stayed in school another year.
As a 2011 rookie, Smith delivered a top 30 fantasy season with 50 catches for 841 yards and 7TDs. He followed that up with another top 30 (28th) finish in 2012, before a breakout 3rd year when he went over 1,000 yards for first time and finished as a top 25 WR. While his fourth year was a disappointment in terms of yards (767), his 11TDs meant that he finished in the top 30 for the fourth consecutive year.
In that time, Smith had flashed the ability to be a top WR in the league, particularly in a playoff game against the Denver Broncos in the Ravens 2012 SuperBowl run, when he embarrassed future Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey on his way to 98 yards and two touchdowns, in just his second year.
At the end of his rookie contract, he signed for the San Francisco 49ers in a 5 year, $40m deal that included $22m guaranteed. While not the largest deal, it represented a significant outlay for a player who had always flashed the potential to be a top 20 WR in the league but never quite got there.
It's safe to say he didn't manage it in 2015.
The 49ers were a hot mess in 2015, finishing in the bottom 5 in passing yards, passing touchdowns and passing yards per game. Coach Jim Tomsula was fired, and the team finished the year playing Blaine Gabbert at QB. Smith caught just 33 passes, easily a career low.
So why then am I writing this column about him?
Two words: Chip Kelly.
There is alot written about Chip Kelly from his time with the Eagles. Much is said about his treatment of players, or his training regimen, or his personnel decisions and much of that may be true. But I know one thing for sure; Chip Kelly runs a productive offense.
In his two full years as Eagles Head Coach, the Philadelphia offense finished top 5 for total yards, top 10 for passing yards and top 12 for passing touchdowns. The wheels fell off for Kelly in the third year and he was fired before the end of the regular season. But even then, he delivered top 12 finishes in both total yards and passing yards.
With Kelly now in San Francisco, there has been alot of prognostication about his effect on the fantasy assets on the 49ers roster. While much of this talk has focused on the running game and the benefits to Carlos Hyde, I believe that Torrey Smith may be the overlooked beneficiary of Kelly's scheme.
In his two full years with Philadelphia, Kelly delivered WR1 fantasy seasons for DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, receivers who played outside and primarily operated as downfield threats in Kelly's scheme.
In 2013, Jackson was targeted 126 times and hauled in 82 catches for 1332 yards and 9 TDs at 16.2 yards per catch, a rate only beaten by three top 25 WRs that year. They were Josh Gordon, Calvin Johnson and.....Torrey Smith.
Meanwhile in 2014, Maclin returned from missing the entire 2013 season to replace the departed Jackson. He came back with a bang, delivering 85 receptions for 1318 yards and 10 TDs from 143 targets. His 15.5 yards per catch was beaten by just four receivers in the top 30 WRs. Three of them were TY Hilton, DeAndre Hopkins and DeSean Jackson. If you're following the narrative correctly, you won't be shocked when I tell you that the fourth was Torrey Smith.
It's worth looking at those totals side by side, as they're quite telling:
Maclin got more targets, but the output for two was basically identical. Even if you add in Kelly's fateful third year, where Jordan Matthews was the teams top target it points to a pattern.
Jordan Matthews is a bigger receiver who primarily played in the slot, which explains the diminished yard count but the pattern is the same every year. The top WR in the Chip Kelly offense is good for 120+ targets and 80+ receptions.
It's very difficult to argue that Torrey Smith is not the top WR in that offense this year.
So I'm forced to ask why everyone is quite so down on him in fantasy this year? Yes, the QB situation in San Francisco is one of the worst in the league. But Kelly delivered those passing stats with a carousel of Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford over the last three years. Are we really saying he can't do similar with Blaine Gabbert or Colin Kaepernick? Because if he can then Torrey Smith is being seriously undervalued.
Per DLF's Dynasty ADP he is going off the board at 125 overall as the 65th wide receiver. He's being drafted behind Braxton Miller, a rookie who is literally still learning to play the position. It isn't much better in MFL10s, where he's being drafted as the 50th WR. That is frankly mad.
In his worst fantasy season ever last year, Torrey Smith finished as the WR55 in PPR leagues. I'm not saying that because it's a success, but simply pointing out that Smith is a player with a high-ceiling who is being drafted at his absolute floor.
Those are the players that usually end up of winning teams at the end of the year. I think this year, Smith will be one of those players.