Finding Value: Is Steve Smith Underrated?
Perhaps his ordinary name isn’t attractive enough to warrant anything more than a middle-round draft choice. Or maybe his soon-to-be 34-year-old body is just too ancient for fantasy owners to consider as a number two receiver. Whatever the reason, Carolina Panthers’ wideout Steve Smith is certainly underrated heading into the 2013 season.
While we can’t – and shouldn’t – put very much stock into February and March mock drafts, we at least can see how the general fantasy population is thinking. And at Steve Smith’s seventh-round ADP, it appears that the masses aren’t thinking very highly of the veteran pass catcher.
Although he’s not the stud he once was, Steve Smith is one of the most consistent wide receivers in fantasy football. Of course, consistency isn’t always a good thing. After all, Titus Young was consistent last year. But when you’re posting respectable numbers, consistency is what fantasy owners all strive to achieve with their fantasy squads.
Over the last two years with Cam Newton under center, Smith has posted 2,568 receiving yards and 11 scores. His yardage total over these seasons has been better than Antonio Brown, AJ Green, Marques Colston, Mike Wallace, Larry Fitzgerald, Dez Bryant, Stevie Johnson, Miles Austin and Julio Jones, and he’s gotten into the end zone more times than Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Bowe.
His 310 standard fantasy points since the start of 2011 ranks 12th among wide receivers, which is, by definition, a WR1. Though that number speaks more to reliability and age than pure production, he’s been better than players like Mike Wallace and Stevie Johnson over this time.
Predictability at the wide receiver position should not be undervalued. Just last season – one that was worse statistically than the first one he had with Cam – Smith finished with seven top-24 performances at the receiver position (excluding Week 17). There were only 12 receivers with more. Though most of these top-24 games weren’t top-6 or top-12, Smith’s consistency allowed him to finish as a top-20 receiver in 2012 while scoring just four touchdowns.
I’ve previously written about touchdown reliance, but if you’d rather not read the details, the result to the concept is simple: When a top player’s fantasy output relies heavily on touchdowns, said player has a higher chance of not repeating that fantasy performance the following season. Conversely, if a player still ranks at the top of his position and only scores a few times, the chance that he increases that production in the following season is pretty good. Calvin Johnson, for instance, should be even more attractive to fantasy owners entering 2013 because he scored the most fantasy points at receiver while only getting into the end zone five times. James Jones, on the other hand, may have a difficult time finishing as a top receiver given his 14 scores in 2012.
Touchdowns are one of the more unpredictable statistics for most players. While we can use history to help us dictate and guess how many scores some players will get (I’m talking to you, Rob Gronkowski), we have to recognize that the majority of non-elite NFLers will fluctuate their touchdown production from year to year. To prove this point, as the touchdown reliance article says, only 5 of the 17 players who scored 8 or more touchdowns in 2011 scored more in 2012. And the majority of those scorers’ touchdown totals altered quite a bit from one year to the next.
Does this mean Smith will score a lot of touchdowns in 2013? Not necessarily, but his four scores accounted for just 17.8% of his fantasy total in 2012, which was third lowest among top-30 fantasy receivers. There’s clearly room for improvement in the highest awarded stat category for receivers, and that’s good news for prospective Smith owners.
There are other reasons to get excited for Smith, too. He’s missed significant time in just one of his 12 NFL seasons, and he’s posted strong numbers in nearly all of them. His 46-reception, 554-yard and two-score 2010 was clearly the worst season of his career, but no receiver would be able to put up reputable numbers with a rookie Jimmy Clausen throwing them the ball. Since 2005, and outside of that dreadful Panthers 2010 season (seven seasons total), Smith has scored 51 touchdowns, which averages to be over seven scores a season.
Not bad for a player being drafted in Round 7.
According to early draft data on MyFantasyLeague.com, Steve Smith has been, on average, the 38th receiver off the draft board. Even the biggest Steve Smith haters think that’s a steal. And though it’s early and this ADP will probably rise, the early lack of interest for the veteran is alarming. People seem to be overlooking his reliability at a position that inherently lacks consistency.
The competition being drafted ahead of Steve Smith is, quite honestly, laughable when compared to Smith’s underrated caliber of play. Jeremy Maclin has been in the NFL for four years and has never reached 1,000 yards receiving in a single season. He’s being drafted a round and a half ahead of Smith. T.Y. Hilton is coming off of a great rookie season, but still has plenty of 2013 question marks with a new offensive coordinator. His ADP is a full round ahead of Smith. Even Kenny Britt is listed ahead of Smith in ADP rankings!
When will the madness end?
I understand that we don’t make draft selections based solely on history. If you’re going to win a fantasy football championship, you have to be prepared to study the past, present and future. You have to, at times, pick players based on potential. That’s why we’re seeing other receivers like Torrey Smith, Josh Gordon, DeSean Jackson and Justin Blackmon selected ahead of the Panthers’ wideout in drafts.
But is it possible that some of these receivers’ potential fantasy ceilings are equivalent to Steve Smith’s floor? And if you really believe their ceilings are higher, isn’t it feasible for Steve Smith to have just as high of one?
Then why are you drafting them ahead of him?