32 for 32: Alex Smith is a Fantasy Football PB&J Sandwich
Sometimes we crave a steak. Maybe nachos. Sushi grabs hold of my psyche and doesn’t let go until I indulge in some fresh raw fish. But when groceries are running low or you just need a quick, filling lunch, none of these extravagant meals are what you turn to as your “go to”. The staple filling your tummy since grade school has been, and always will be, the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich, affectionately abbreviated to PB&J.
Alex Smith is that same stable, filling nourishment that gets you through your fantasy season week in and week out. Sure, it’s fun every once in a while, to indulge and draft an Aaron Rodgers in round three, or maybe a Drew Brees on your “cheat day.” But when the draft pool is getting thin on those fancy, savory quarterbacks, you can always turn to good ole’ reliable Alex Smith.
The Bread – Offensive Line & Supporting Cast
The move to Washington, at first glance, looks like a downgrade in the pieces surrounding Smith. However, after closer inspection, it might not be as much a step back as one might think. First, let’s take a look at the offensive line. Pro Football Focus ranked Kansas City as the 16th-best offensive line overall in 2017 and Washington five spots lower at 21. But considering two of Washington’s top lineman—Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff—struggled to stay on the field (starting only 10 and 14 games, respectively), we should expect a better performance in 2018 considering health.
The health problems went beyond just Williams and Scherff, however. A total of 11 different offensive linemen played at least 140 snaps in 2017. With that much turnover, there is no way Washington’s group could have found a rhythm. The offensive line getting a fresh healthy start in 2018 will provide a clean pocket for Smith, and they should be closer to their No. 7 PFF ranking from 2016, providing a strong and healthy foundation to our sandwich.
Having a supporting cast with receiving weapons like Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill is hard to come by. But that isn’t to say Washington doesn’t have skilled playmakers themselves, and frankly more of them. I am already on record talking up Paul Richardson as a “buy” in dynasty leagues. Richardson scored +22.2 Fantasy Points Over Expectation in 2017, top-20 among all wide receivers. Jamison Crowder is a talented slot receiver and should have a career-year as he seems like the exact type of receiver Smith has always leaned on—a sure-handed receiver who works in the slot. The 5-foot-8, 185-pound Crowder has an arm length of 30 and 3/8 inches and is a spitting image of Smith’s most recent favorite receiver (Hill), albeit a step slower in the open field.
Josh Doctson, healthy and with a full NFL season under his belt, now looks to fully inherit Washington’s No. 1 WR role and is far more prototypical (6-foot-2, 202 pounds) for that job compared to Tyreek Hill. Jordan Reed, when healthy, is one of the top receiving tight ends in the NFL. And Chris Thompson proved last year he is as dangerous a threat out of the backfield as any running back not named Le’Veon Bell, with 39 receptions in 10 games (most for a running back who did not play in at least 14 games).
Playerprofiler.com has a metric called “Supporting Cast Efficiency” which quantifies the surrounding skill position players for a quarterback. Smith does get a downgrade leaving Kansas City, who ranked second overall in this metric for 2017, but he only fell three spots, to the fifth-best team from last year. Assuming Reed can stay healthy, and with the upgrade at receiver in Richardson, the difference between the supporting casts in Kansas City and Washington is minimal. Both teams were tied with 30 dropped passes in 2017. Smith is surrounded by talented skill-position players and a solid offensive line, just like two good slices of bread for our metaphorical sandwich.
The Peanut Butter – Consistency
The peanut butter in a PB&J is obviously the most important part of this sandwich. Tasty, filling, not unhealthy, and pretty cheap. Smith’s consistency is the most important part of what makes him such a reliable fantasy asset. You pretty much always know what you are going to get with Alex Smith in your lineup.
— Salvatore Stefanile (@2QBFFB) April 28, 2018
Over the last five seasons, Smith has a completion rate of 65.15 percent, averages 3,522 passing yards a season, has a respectable 4.2 percent touchdown rate, and hasn’t thrown 10 or more interceptions. Over that same time frame, Smith has averaged 16.47 fantasy points per game (the league average in 2017 was 14.05 fantasy points per game).
In my soon-to-be released Weekly Consistency rankings at 247fantasyfootball.com, I charted out every week in terms of where players finished in fantasy points. Alex Smith tied with Tom Brady for sixth in terms of positive consistency. And there is an argument for him to be higher, considering I left Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson in my rankings despite their shortened seasons.
Smith had 10 weeks where he finished as a top-12 option at quarterback and only one week where he was a “bust” (outside of the top 24 in fantasy points). Week in and week out, Smith has shown to be a consistent, reliable fantasy asset with a respectable ceiling and an incredibly safe floor.
The Jelly – Rushing
Whereas the peanut butter may be the filling protein part of the sandwich, the coup de grâce to the PB&J is always the “J”. Be it jam or jelly; Grape, strawberry, or that seedy temptress, raspberry; the “J” is what makes this staple special (Editor’s Note: Don’t dismiss blackberry jam).
In Alex Smith’s case, the jam is his ability to add fantasy production with his rushing prowess.
In most leagues, 10 yards of rushing is equal to 25 yards passing. Or in other words, rushing is 2.5 times as valuable as passing. Over the past five years, Smith has averaged 334.4 yards rushing per season, or an additional 33.4 fantasy points. To make up those points as a pure pocket passer, someone like Tom Brady, for example, would have to throw for an additional 836 yards.
Smith’s ability to use his legs also translates to the red zone. Over that same time span, Smith has averaged two rushing touchdowns per season. In most standard leagues, passing touchdowns are worth four fantasy points and rushing scores are worth six. That’s the difference of an extra touchdown pass each season for a pure pocket passer.
With rushing yardage and touchdowns together, Smith tacks on an average of 45.4 fantasy points to his total each season thanks to his legs. To put that into perspective, the difference between the second- and 10th-best scorers at quarterback in total fantasy points last season was 38.82 fantasy points (Aside: Russell Wilson as the top scorer was an absurd 48.4 fantasy points higher than the number two, Cam Newton. No one else in the top 10 was separated by more than 13.4 points). As the 24th quarterback being drafted in 2QB startup drafts (according to TwoQBs’ current Dynasty ADP), Smith’s rushing ability keeps him as a number one option, but at a deep draft discount.
A quality lunch can be as simple as four ingredients. Stack a slice of good bread, peanut butter, jam or jelly of your choice, and another slice of bread, and before you know it, you are filled up and ready for the second half of the day. For Alex Smith, a similar recipe keeps him producing for our fantasy teams each season: a good offensive line, his own consistency, his rushing ability, and a talented supporting cast of skill players.
My 2018 projections model for Smith has him passing for 3,891 yards, 21 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, and rushing for 353 yards and 2 touchdowns, finishing the year with 272.94 fantasy points*. That production would have made him the eighth-best quarterback for fantasy in 2017, so there’s plenty to look forward to with Alex Smith in 2018.
*My projections model takes into account bonuses for plays of 20+ yards and 40+ yards.