Fantasy football draft season is going in full force, and many decisions that can make-or-break hopes for a league title will be made. A big key to success is identifying sleepers or more precisely breakout candidates at each position that have an excellent chance to far outperform their ADP (Average Draft Position).
Two wide receivers, who happen to each be entering their second NFL season, that fit the description as potential breakout candidates are Torrey Smith of the Baltimore Ravens and Titus Young of the Detroit Lions. So which one should fantasy owners hold in higher regard as they go down their rankings past the upper echelon wide receivers and look for upside? I’ll analyze both guys, then give my choice.
Smith added a big-play element to the Ravens’ offense as a rookie last season, as he totaled 50 receptions for 841 yards (16.8 yards per catch) and seven touchdowns. He had four catches of 40 yards or longer and 14 of 20 yards or more and may begin to take a bigger role in his second season and put Anquan Boldin into the background for Baltimore’s pass offense. The biggest key will be becoming a more refined route runner and a more well-rounded receiver, and a full offseason should have helped in that regard.
Smith played through a double sports hernia that required surgery for much of 2011, and an ankle injury suffered in Baltimore’s preseason opener kept him out of practice for a day and he missed the team’s second preseason game. The injury does not seem to be a concern due to his short practice absence, but any lingering effects that last into the regular season would obviously hurt his potential impact early in the season. Fantasy owners who are considering drafting Smith need to monitor how he looks against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Baltimore’s third preseason game next Thursday just to be safe.
Consistency was a bit of an issue for Smith as a rookie, as he followed up his breakout five-catch, 152-yard, three touchdown game against the St. Louis Rams in Week 3 with a one-catch game the following week. Then he had six receptions for 165 yards and a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals in November then followed that with three catches for 55 yards over the following two games. Being a more prominent part of the Ravens’ passing game should help Smith be more consistent in 2012, but his ups and downs last year still has to be cause for concern given that running back Ray Rice is the focal point of the team’s offense.
Young had a fairly productive rookie campaign himself last season, with 48 receptions for 607 yards and six touchdowns. He had a solid finish as well with four of his touchdown catches over the final four games of the regular season, but for much of the season found himself down the pecking order in the Lions’ passing game with two or less catches in seven games.
Young’s immaturity resurfaced during OTAs when he had a fight with safety Louis Delmas, but his status on the team was not affected and there has been nothing but positive buzz surrounding him since the episode.
Young is still theoretically behind Nate Burleson on Detroit’s wide receiver depth chart, but it’s safe to say if he continues to perform well Burleson will be relegated to being primarily a slot receiver (where he is better suited to be anyway) while Young takes over his starting gig on the outside. That should automatically lead to more opportunities, and plenty more targets than last season (85) for the Boise State product.
Smith and Young are both in line for much bigger roles in 2012 than they had in 2011, so the fantasy impact arrow is definitely pointing up for both. That said, the potential to be a big part of what will surely again be a pass-oriented Detroit offense makes Young the clear choice here.
The Ravens will again give Rice all the touches he can handle if healthy, so that stands to lead to limited opportunities for the passing game and thus creating the potential for very inconsistent numbers for Smith. Another point in Young’s favor is the talent gap between his quarterback (Matthew Stafford) and Smith’s (Joe Flacco).
Both guys are worth considering as a WR3 in 12-team fantasy football leagues, and that is where they are widely being ranked at this point with Smith being slotted slightly higher virtually across the board.