What if I told you that you could easily snag a high-upside player late in your drafts? A player who, in 2018, would have cost you a third-round pick in rookie drafts, a player who peaked with an Average Draft Position of 77 in dynasty mock startups at DLF in December of 2018, and now has an ADP in dynasty startup drafts near pick 133? A player on high-octane, pass-happy offense?
Slap the hood, folks, and let us talk about New Orleans Saints wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith.
College to the Pros
Smith was not a high pedigree prospect coming out of Florida. He was a three-star recruit, and 247sports had him ranked 180th at wide receiver and as their 1457th-ranked overall recruit in the 2014 class. He enrolled at the University of Central Florida after only receiving nine total offers to play collegiate football.
Statistics from sports-reference.com.
He produced for the Knights immediately, and had an age-19 breakout season his freshman year. In 2017, as McKenzie Milton took over the offense for the *National Champion* Knights in Smith’s Junior year, his efficiency exploded to the tune of 1,171 receiving yards and 13 receiving touchdowns on just two more receptions than his sophomore season.
On film, you see a player who can stretch the field vertically, and shows the athleticism and skill to leap up and high point the ball. With his speed, he was also able to gain yards in large chunks. Smith did struggle a little with drops but that is always something that can be fixed.
Information from Mockdraftable.com.
At the Scouting Combine, he measured 6’ 1 3/4” and 203 pounds. He ran a 4.49-second 40-yard dash and posted a vertical of 37 1/2” (77th percentile) with a broad jump of 130” (93rd). His agility scores were less than stellar; a 6.97-second three-cone drill (43rd) and a 20-yard shuttle of 4.5 seconds (third). Smith is not the agile undersized slot that some might think but profiles as someone who could replace Ted Ginn eventually in opening routes for Michael Thomas.
Smith was selected with the 27th pick of the third round in the 2018 NFL Draft. He went to a New Orleans offense that already featured its Alpha wide receiver in Thomas and the outside vertical threat in Ginn.
Surprisingly, he was not relegated to one spot on the field, and in his 567 snaps on offense – which were the second most for a New Orleans wide receiver in 2018 – he was in the slot for 292 of those.
Statistics from pro-football-reference.com.
Statistics from rotowire.com.
Smith was used sparingly in his first season. He was only targeted 44 times and saw only 535 total air yards. He was effective on those targets, finishing the season with 28 receptions and 427 receiving yards. Pro Football Focus graded him fifth overall in the 2018 rookie class.
Tre'Quan Smith finished as the league's fifth highest-graded rookie receiver in 2018 pic.twitter.com/uoRo7FIMNF
— PFF (@PFF) February 17, 2019
He also had the highest graded game of any wide receiver in 2018 during his week 11 performance against the Eagles. This, with a 136.5 passer rating when targeted by Brees in 2018, shows there is plenty of room for growth with increased opportunity.
Saints WR Tre'Quan Smith had the highest overall game grade of any receiver last season for his performance against Philadelphia in Week 11https://t.co/GbdaVZKfyy pic.twitter.com/7YVjVpsHuU
— PFF (@PFF) March 2, 2019
What does 2019 bring for Smith? Tight end Ben Watson retired, leaving 46 targets, only to sign with the Patriots when Rob Gronkowski called it a career. The Saints quickly signed free agent Jared Cook from the Raiders. Thomas and Alvin Kamara both commanded over 100 targets last season and project to do the same this year.
Without a clear cut path to more opportunity, he will need to capitalize on efficiency from Brees and playing opposite some of the best offensive weapons in the game. Ideally, defenses will focus on Thomas, Kamara, and even Cook should open up spots for him. With Ted Ginn out for nearly all of 2018, he likely will take a chunk of any further targets for Smith with his return in 2019. Ginn is fairly inexpensive in his final contract year with the team and if cut now, only frees up approximately $2m in cap space from his overall $3.5m contract.
With Ginn out of the picture in 2019, and Cameron Meredith being shelved for the past two seasons with knee injuries, Smith has a strong opportunity to take over more of a role in the New Orleans offense in 2019.
From May to June, Smith dropped nearly 16 spots in average draft position. He is currently being drafted with players like D’Onta Foreman, Austin Ekeler, Devin Funchess, and Steelers rookie third-round pick Diontae Johnson. I strongly believe Smith will outproduce all of those players and has more long-term potential.
Smith’s best value will be towards best ball leagues at this point in his career-like many young wide receivers. He still has some growing to do, but is an excellent complement to Thomas in the New Orleans offense.
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