Expectations can be a funny thing. Establishing a track record of any variety in football — specifically the fake kind — tends to get one pigeonholed in the minds of drafters.
Smith is a great example of how this phenomenon can work. After a lengthy track record of being a backup fantasy passer with the occasional spot play in the cards, the former No. 1 overall selection has earned a reputation as a game manager. Statistically speaking, it would have been an apt label. However, gamers get in the habit of drafting as if the past is the future, and it can work conversely to expectations and perception.
In 2017, Smith was drafted, on average, as the 22nd quarterback chosen, going in the 14th round. In other words, he was barely a backup. As we know with the magic of hindsight, Smith finished sixth in overall quarterback points last season. More accurately, he was the No. 3 quarterback in average points per game (23.2) for quarterbacks with at least 13 starts. The biggest change was pushing the ball down the field. Smith averaged 8.0 yards per attempt, which tied his personal best that was set in an abbreviated 2012 season with San Francisco.
Back in March, when the Smith trade from the Kansas City Chiefs became official, we took a quick look at what the veteran brought to the table in 2018. Since, Washington spent a second-round choice on LSU running back Derrius Guice. He had a first-round grade on talent alone, but managing his personality and maturity could prove to be a challenge for the coaching staff. On the field, Guice should bring a consistently difficult rushing game to defend, which frees up Smith in the aerial attack and allows for creative playcalling via play-action passing.
The cast of weapons needs to play at a likely unreachable level for Smith to replicate or improve upon last year’s fine season. Jordan Reed must remain on the field for the whole season, and Josh Doctson has to expand on last year’s promising effort. Paul Richardson will need to offer his 2017 deep game, and Jamison Crowder must play like his first two years or better by putting last season behind him.
Borrowing from the last time we addressed Smith’s value:
The sum of the parts is anything but special, and unless a few players outplay expectations by a great deal, Smith will be asked to do a lot with little. In an era featuring so many viable fantasy starters at his position, Smith returns to backup status …
Remember those pesky expectations? Gamers haven’t entirely forgotten Smith’s first 13 seasons, placing him in Round 11, on average, which is a rational hat tip to his 2017 season. Look for a masterful performance or two mixed in with respectable showings that have defined his career.
The former Seattle Seahawk is coming off a career season in which he averaged a hearty 16.0 yards per reception, scoring six times on just 44 grabs. The Redskins paid handsomely (5 years, $40 million) to find out if his showing was the start of something bigger.
The Colorado product struggled to make an impact (29-271-1) in his 2014 rookie season. As if it couldn’t get worse, Richardson torn his left ACL for the second time in the 2014 playoffs. A severe hamstring injury cost him all but one game as an NFL sophomore, and he toiled in post-rehab mediocrity in the 2016 campaign. Injuries are a major concern for prospective Richardson drafters.
Richardson has the ability to shake loose and create separation against most corners in the NFL. He was a deep threat before entering the NFL, averaging 15.5 over just under two full seasons and running 4.4 flat at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine. Smith’s mobility only helps Richardson. Extending plays creates huge gains with wideouts of this mold.
The former second-rounder is expected to fill the DeSean Jackson role in this offense, while Doctson is the Pierre Garcon and Crowder reprises his supporting role in the slot. This translates for Richardson as lower volume, higher yardage stats output. Jackson — scratching his nine-game season in 2015 — caught 56 balls in both of his 15-game slates in 2014 and ’16 under Jay Gruden.
It isn’t unreasonable to think Richardson’s ceiling is hovers around 60 catches. Averaging anything close to his 16 yards per snare from a year ago gives an expected return of 900-1,000 yards. He’s a sneaky WR2 sleeper at a steal of a price (16th-round ADP). Safely treat him as a fourth wideout.