News & Analysis

Don't expect Smith to reach his 2017 fantasy heights in Washington

Oct 2, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) runs against Washington Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger (36) in the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

According to Kansas City Chiefs beat reporter Terez Paylor, the Chiefs have agreed to a deal that will send QB Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins. Per Adam Schefter, Smith and Washington have already reached an agreement on a four-year contract extension, locking him up for the next five seasons. The moves cannot be finalized until the league year begins in March.

Smith is coming off of a career year where he set career highs in passer rating (104.7) and adjusted yards per attempt (8.59). He also set a new career high in fantasy points per game with 20.0, which ranked third among quarterbacks and was 4.5 more than his preceding three-year average. By all accounts this was something of an outlier year for Smith, who (up until this season) had garnered a similar reputation in fantasy as to his real NFL value – he was a high-floor/low-ceiling quarterback who was dependable enough to get the job done, but wasn’t exactly a league-winner.

Even before the trade, it made sense to be skeptical regarding Smith’s fantasy potential in 2018. Though he certainly was dominant in 2017, we have a much larger sample (11 other seasons) where he’s never finished as a QB1 (top-12 at his position). As to what accounted for the difference, everything looks about the same, except for a dramatic change on deep passes in volume, production, and efficiency.

38.7 percent of Smith’s passing production in 2017 (in fantasy points) came on deep passes. This was the second-most by any quarterback (min. 400 pass attempts) this past decade. His passer rating on deep passes (131.4) was also second-best of the decade. These numbers being so high and so out of line with his career norms scream potential for regression. Either Smith went from a below-average and timid deep passer to one of the best in the league seemingly out of nowhere, or he got a little lucky with variance and also benefited from Tyreek Hill’s near-Olympic speed (4.24-second 40-yard-dash at his pro day in 2016).

Smith loses PFF’s eighth-highest-graded (via the pass) wide receiver (Hill) and second-highest-graded receiving tight end (Travis Kelce) and moves to Washington, where the redskins failed to post a wide receiver or tight end in the top-30 at their respective positions last season. (Granted, Jordan Reed missed the majority of the season, though he’s apt to do that.) Despite the underperforming weapons, now-departing Washington QB Kirk Cousins still managed to finish sixth in fantasy points per game, and head coach/offensive play-caller Jay Gruden has earned a reputation for running a quarterback-friendly offense. In fantasy terms this bears out as well.

As a team, Gruden’s quarterbacks have ranked seventh, fifth, 10th, and 16th in fantasy points over his four seasons as head coach. In Gruden’s final season as offensive coordinator (2013, with Cincinnati) Andy Dalton finished third at the position in fantasy points per game. Perhaps this offense (which seems more fantasy-friendly than Kansas City) can help somewhat negate the looming statistical regression for Smith.

On the other side of the equation we have an electrifying sophomore quarterback in Patrick Mahomes, who appears destined to be Kansas City’s starter for the foreseeable future. In our initial scouting report on him last March, we saw Mahomes as something of a polar opposite to Smith, a high-risk/high-reward prospect with limitless potential. Though he may have been risky coming out, he impressed in limited opportunities this season. He was our highest-graded quarterback in the preseason. In Week 17, his lone start and snaps of the year, he was our fifth-highest-graded passer and managed 22 completions on 35 attempts for 284 yards, zero scores, and one interception.

Though Mahomes screams upside, it’s hard to gauge that upside in this particular offense. As a team, and prior to 2017, Reid’s quarterbacks failed to finish top-15 in fantasy points for five straight seasons. It’s possible this was just a result of Smith’s limitations as a passer, because Reid’s quarterbacks 2006-2011 (as a team) ranked top-10 in fantasy points each season and top-three three times.

As it stands, I currently have both Smith and Mahomes ranked as mid to low-end QB2s. In dynasty, this is enough for me to move Mahomes up as a borderline QB1.

Meanwhile, this move all but guarantees that twice-franchise-tagged Cousins will be leaving Washington. In what promises to be an active offseason for quarterbacks, Cousins (assuming Drew Brees remains in New Orleans) is the headliner. His fantasy stock will be largely determined by where he ends up, with Denver, Arizona, Buffalo, Cleveland, Minnesota, and the New York Jets all seen as potential landing spots for quarterbacks this offseason.

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