Fantasy Football: Coming To Terms With Geno Smith

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Sometimes in fantasy football, one must stop wishing and start accepting with the understanding that if we don’t, we’re hopelessly trying to control things well beyond the bounds of our control.

And so it goes with the New York Jets’ quarterback situation, where it appears that second-year incumbent starter Geno Smith is going to be given every chance to succeed — or fail — with the former fantasy miracle known as Michael Vick as his backup in 2014.

I didn’t want this. Nor did many of you. We wanted Vick, Konami Code royalty, to seize the Jets’ starting gig, be available very late in every draft this summer, and give us a handful or two of occasionally berserk outings buoyed by his penchant for eating up rushing yards.

New York head coach Rex Ryan has said Vick will have every chance to compete for the team’s starting job — a comment that sounded an awful lot like disingenuous coachspeak after Vick, Smith, and Jets’ offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said quite the opposite.

It appears, barring a training camp meltdown of epic proportions, that Smith is in line to be under center when the Jets take on the Oakland Raiders in Week 1.

I’ve come to terms with it, and a recent breakdown by Fantasy Douche at RotoViz offered a glimmer of hope that Smith might — just might — offer some god-honest fantasy value in a revamped Gang Green offense that now comes complete with Eric Decker, Chris Johnson, rookie tight end Jace Amaro, a growing Stephen Hill, and David Nelson, who showed solid chemistry with Geno in the waning weeks of the 2013 season.

And lest we forget, the lumbering tight end known as Jeff Cumberland was among fantasy’s most efficient last season, scoring .42 points per route run on 39 targets.

The RotoViz breakdown showed that, quite amazingly, Smith posted high-end QB1 numbers (23.8 points) in Jets wins last year, while proving to be a fake football albatross (6.4 points per game) when New York lost. Perhaps it was the positive game flow of those Gang Green victories, or maybe it was Geno not having to force the issue when the Jets got down by more than a couple scores.

Whatever it was, I find it impossible to ignore that, for eight mostly alternating weeks in 2013, Smith was a fantasy force. Drew Brees averaged 23.3 fantasy points per game last season, for the record.

I ran Geno through the RotoViz Game Split app and found his average stat line in New York wins and losses during his rookie campaign.

In 8 NYJ wins In 8 NYJ losses
Pass attempts 28.4 26.9
Completion percentage 59% 52%
Passing yards 219.5 160
Passing TDs 1.25 .25
Rushing yards 34 11.4
Interceptions .62 2

 

Smith’s average pass attempts in both wins and losses were similar, so it’s not like Geno was turned loose in those eight good games and benefited from volume of opportunity. Interceptions and touchdown tosses stand out the most here with rushing yards not too far behind.

An average of 3.4 fantasy points in rushing yardage might not seem like a big whopping deal until you realize that 3.4 points almost accounts for another touchdown pass in most leagues. Rushing yards could be a central part of Geno’s fantasy appeal in 2014, as Jets’ coaches have talked up Smith’s willingness to take what’s there on the ground when his pass catchers are covered.

The RotoViz Quarterback Similiarity Score app, using just those eight victories from 2013, projects Geno to score 16.4 fantasy points per game as a median number, and 19.6 points in a best case scenario. The former would make Smith a borderline top-12 quarterback and the latter would put him near the top-5. And no, I’m not projecting Geno Smith as a top-5 fantasy signal caller. I’m just saying.

I thought it’d be instructive to look at how Geno fared in games against the NFL’s better-than-average coverage units, and how he performed against those ranked in the bottom half of the league’s secondaries. The results were not altogether shocking.

Smith vs. top-half pass defenses Smith vs. bottom-half pass defenses
Games 12 4
Fantasy points 13.9 18.7
Pass completions/attempts 15/28 16.3/26.3
Interceptions 1.42 1
Touchdowns .58 1.25
Passing yards 186.3 200
Rushing yards 29 20.6

 

Seems like tough luck for a rookie to take on 12 secondaries ranked among the league’s 16 best coverage units. It was, in the end, a thresher of a schedule for rookie Geno, and one he won’t have to face in his second year in New York.

Geno will have one of the league’s most favorable quarterback schedules, according to 4for4′s strength of schedule tool, which leverages schedule-adjusted fantasy points. Smith will square off against just four “moderately strong” pass defenses in 2014, and only one of those matchups is in the season’s first 12 weeks.

In other words, Geno will have a favorable schedule until Thanksgiving.

I’m not ready to tab Smith as a staple of the quarterback streaming approach for this coming season. I fully acknowledge that this analysis is made possible only through unapologetic cherry picking, and that Geno’s rookie season was an on-and-off train wreck complete with a string of clunkers.

Here’s the rub: Geno is the 32nd quarterback off the draft board today. He’s going after teammate Vick — another sign that fantasy owners are in denial — and Matt Schaub. Geno is being drafted after Chad Henne‘s backup, Blake Bortles.

Geno will come without a shred of risk this season. If you spend one of your waning draft picks on the guy who averaged elite fantasy production in eight 2013 games, you get all upside with no chance of hurting your squad. I think Smith should enter the conversation of extremely late-round quarterbacks — Carson Palmer and Alex Smith among them — who could prove be be arbitrage plays for quarterbacks drafted in the ninth, 10th, and 11th rounds.

C.D. Carter is a reporter, author of zombie stories, writer for The Fake Football and XN Sports. Fantasy Sports Writers Association member. His work  has been featured in the New York Times.