IDP Sleeper to Keeper - Harrison Smith
It’s hard to make a case for any first-round talent to be an under the radar guy, but Harrison Smith plays safety, one of the more difficult positions to project in fantasy football. Coming out of the draft, Smith’s talent was visible, but that doesn’t always lead to immediate success in the NFL, let alone in fantasy leagues. The case for that was made stronger, as Smith flashed his potential out of the gate, but it didn’t translate to good fantasy outputs for the first month and a half of the season.
But oh, what a difference a few weeks can make. Smith scored double digits in seven of his last 10 games and overcame a slow start to finish sixth among all safeties in fantasy points and ninth among all defensive backs. More encouragingly, he didn’t achieve inflated scores with the aid of several interceptions. If he begins to cash in on those opportunities, watch out.
It is worth noting that Smith recorded two touchdowns on the year, but even if those were taken out of the equation, he would rank just outside the top 10 at his position. But if his 2012 season taught us anything, it’s that he still has plenty of room to grow, and also the talent capable of reaching lofty expectations.
When drafting safeties, one of the “safer” philosophies is focusing on the ones who excel in defending the run. Because there’s such a variance in output from week to week among defensive backs, some owners like to play it safe and take the “in the box” types who can rack up tackles and give decent but not necessarily great outputs each game.
Harrison Smith is not this kind of safety. Just 33 of his tackles came while defending the run, but more telling is that he whiffed eight times in these situations. And as a whole, Smith misses a tackle for every 8.4 he attempts when coverage situations are factored in. That puts him at 28th in the league, which isn’t exactly anything to get excited about. These shortcomings may not matter, however, as long as he continues to tackle well in coverage. Below, I’ve compared him to other safeties in this area by using the PFF tackling efficiency metric, which is the total number of tackles a player makes for every missed tackle in a certain situation. Let’s look at tackling efficiency while in coverage :
|Player||Team||Tackles (in coverage)||Assists (in coverage)||Missed Tackles (in coverage)||Tackling Efficiency|
|Mike C. Adams||DEN||42||2||2||23|
His 47 tackles put him in the highest tier, and his four misses make him one of the 10 most efficient tackling safeties in the passing game. His 147 yards allowed after contact puts him fifth in the league, which demonstrates how much of a sure tackler he has been when the ball comes his way through the air. His efficiency is impressive, but the volume of tackles he racked-up is more so, given that he is not frequently targeted. Quarterbacks threw in Smith’s direction once every 18.3 snaps in 2012, which is the 15th-lowest target rate among safeties.
There’s a good reason for that relatively low figure. Of Smith’s 34 targets in coverage, he batted away 11 of those passes, which is just one reason quarterbacks haven’t been too keen to challenge him this year. Even that may be an understatement, though. As it turns out, there aren’t even a handful of safeties who allow receptions with less frequency than Smith:
|Player||Team||Coverage Snaps/Rec||Coverage snaps/Target|
|Chris D. Clemons||MIA||39.3||22.4|
So what does this all mean? It means that Smith’s owners in dynasty leagues should feel very encouraged that they are getting not only a big point total, but consistent week-to-week outputs from a guy who doesn’t fit the mold of traditional safeties that do. There is no guarantee he improves in the run game or cashes in more on turnovers, but the fact that he put up such a strong point total without either factor bodes very well in the long run should he sustain his play in coverage.