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Alex Smith: The Swiss Army Knife of 2-QB Fantasy Football Leagues

Chiefs QB Alex Smith
Chiefs QB Alex Smith

Aug 9, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) rolls out while pressured by New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94). Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The fate of the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs could very well hinge on how new starting quarterback Alex Smith performs, and the same thing can be said about Smith in regards to your 2-QB fantasy football team. Yes, you read that correctly. Alex Smith could be the difference between your 2-QB fantasy team hoisting your league’s fake Lombardi Trophy, or finishing in dead last.

Now, before I delve into the specifics of this article, I want to make it abundantly clear that I’m not advocating for Alex Smith to be the savior of 2-QB fantasy football teams across the board in 2013. If you go into your 2-QB draft thinking that Smith is the answer as an every week starter, you’re going about it all wrong.

The article you’re about to read lays out the case why you should be making it a priority to draft Alex Smith during your 2-QB drafts this year as your team’s QB3. The importance of having a quality QB3 on your 2-QB squad might not seem all that important to some 2-QB fantasy footballers out there, but if you have the right QB3 it could wind up being a huge difference maker for your team.

There are two main reasons why 2-QBers draft a QB3: bye week fill-ins, and potential trade bait.

However, with the depth of the quarterback position in fantasy football this year, the case to draft two stud QB1s at the top of your draft isn’t a slam dunk proposition.

Hopefully you’ve read my ‘Studs+Streaming’ approach to 10-team 2-QB fantasy football drafts, where I’ve laid out the case for streaming your QB2. On top of that, numberFire.com’s JJ Zachariason also came out with a 2-QB fantasy football draft strategy article, in which one of his 2-QB strategies (The Carrabba’s Italian Grill Approach) also deals with QB2 streaming.

Going with a QB2 streaming approach isn’t for everybody, but if you’re on board with it, you should know just how important it is to hit on that QB3. Even if you’re not fully into the thought of streaming quarterbacks for your team’s QB2 slot, you’re still going to need a QB3 for your 2-QB team. And that’s where Alex Smith comes into play.

Just what is it about Alex Smith? The former #1 overall draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers has never thrown for more than 18 touchdowns in a season, nor has he ever finished higher than QB14 (2011) in standard scoring fantasy leagues. Smith can’t even be considered a volume thrower, as the most pass attempts he’s completed in a season was 446.

With that in mind, why recommend a quarterback that’s currently the 24th QB drafted on average in 2-QB leagues? A bottom of the barrel QB2 option shouldn’t be considered the missing piece of your 2-QB fantasy football team, should it?

It should, with the main reason being Smith’s soft fantasy schedule. Something that will be touched upon in greater length later in this article. For now, let’s focus on Smith, as well as his new Kansas City surroundings.

You might not be entirely sold on Smith, but even the fantasy quarterbacks you don’t care much for will have a week or two of QB1 production. You might think that I’m lying when I say this but last season saw Christian Ponder put up four Top-12 fantasy quarterback performances, in both standard and 6-points/passing TD leagues. On top of that, he was a Top-5 fantasy quarterback twice in 2012. Christian Ponder!

If Ponder can be relied upon as a viable fantasy quarterback for a few weeks during the season, why can’t Smith?

The thought of Alex Smith as a top draft day target in 2-QB fantasy football leagues, for me, began with an article by Kyle Wachtel, which was written for his website ForensicFantasy.com. In that article, Kyle laid out a case as to why Smith should be considered as a viable fantasy quarterback option. A quick overview of Smith’s 2012 season tells us that he was in line for a career year in the categories of completion percentage, passing touchdowns, rushing yards, passing yards, and passing yards/attempt.

Now, enter Andy Reid. The new head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, and the man who has decided to turn the quarterback reigns in Kansas City over to Alex Smith is considered a champion of the passing game. In seven of the past nine seasons, the offenses under Reid have been top ten in passing attempts, and in eight of those years they have had top ten seasons in terms of passing yards. Both good signs for Alex Smith.

Back to Wachtel’s article, where Kyle calculated what a Smith stat line under Andy Reid would like, and even with a 10% drop off in passing numbers from that projection, Smith would have finished with a stat line good enough for 253.3 fantasy points, good enough for QB12 in standard scoring leagues in 2012.

If you still think that Smith isn’t meant for Reid’s pass happy system based on his past, fellow Sports Jerk CD Carter let it be known, in his QBBWW 4for4.com series, that Smith has a pass attempts average/game of 27.3. Quarterbacks under Reid have attempted 36.1 passes/game in the past three years. How could an extra 130 passes be anything but good news for Smith and those willing to draft him in 2-QB leagues this year?

Reid’s past and Smith’s projections paint a pleasant picture for Smith’s 2013 fantasy potential. But there’s more!

A very useful tool for those about to draft in 2-QB leagues, and are considering a streaming approach, or looking for potential QB3s is the Quarterback By Committee (QBBC) Matrix put together by 4for4.com’s John Paulsen. The QBBC Matrix is a grid that matches the teams from the quarterbacks ranked 11-32 in their preseason QB rankings, and helps you identify quarterback duos that would work well if you were to go with the QBBC approach. While the Matrix is geared towards 1-QB leagues, it can be used to find suitable QB2/3 combos for 2-QB leagues.

When looking at the combinations for the Kansas City Chiefs, you’ll see that the only grades that would be deemed unsuitable matches by Paulsen would be the Baltimore Ravens and Joe Flacco (D+) and the St. Louis Rams and Sam Bradford (C-). Paulsen says any combination with at least a “C” grade would make for a good committee, and Smith matches up well with twenty out of a possible twenty two combinations.

When focusing our attention on fantasy defenses that might provide tasty match-ups for non QB1 types such as Smith, Patrick Thorman of Pro Football Focus Fantasy has provided us with a very valuable chart from his Fantasy Quarterback Streaming: Preseason Planning article. I had mentioned earlier about how Smith’s soft fantasy schedule would tell us why Smith is a potential must draft QB in 2-QB leagues, and we’ve now reached that portion of the article.

The color coded chart created by Pat is very simple to follow:

  • Red=most likely to be a top 10 defense
  • Orange=potential to be a top 10 defense
  • Yellow=teams that could have a good defense
  • Also, byes are shaded Red, so watch out for that. And anything White/Not Shaded means that would be a good fantasy match-up for the quarterback.

After you take the chart all in, what does it mean for Alex Smith? That he might just have the friendliest fantasy football schedule in terms of the opposing fantasy defenses he’ll play against in 2013. The only Red match-up Smith has is a Week 10 bye. And the combination of Yellow/Orange match ups is two, in Weeks 7 and 8. Two potentially bad match ups out of a 17 week schedule is a fantasy goldmine, and one that you could use to your advantage if you prepare for your 2-QB draft properly.

Every 2-QB fantasy football league is different. Some of you play in 10-team 2-QB leagues, while others play in 12-team 2-QB leagues, and at his current 2-QB ADP, Smith is a low-end QB2 option in 12 team 2-QB leagues, and a high end QB3 option in 10-team leagues. This is a point that bears repeating, but you’re not investing a high pick in Smith with his current ADP.

Not everybody is going to be high on Alex Smith, and he does have his detractors, which is fair. Pro Football Focus pointed out in their 32 Teams in 32 Days Series on the Chiefs, that Smith only had two plus starting grades in 2012, and will no longer be protected by the 49ers’ highly ranked offensive line. You have to take into account Smith’s negatives, when attempting to gush over his positives.

Using the rotoViz.com QB Custom Similarity Scores App*, Smith has a high 2013 projection of 16.1 fantasy points/game in 4-points/passing touchdown leagues, and that projection is bumped up to 18.8 points/game in 6-points/passing touchdown leagues. That’s the ceiling for Smith in 2013, and when taking a look at the average fantasy points/game leaders in 2012 those averages would have ranked Smith as QB18 in standard leagues and QB15 in 6-points/passing TD leagues last season.

Of course, Smith’s floor can be found beyond the basement, based on rotoViz’s similarity scores app, and that’s where my hesitation with Smith as a full week starter surfaces. If you can pick and choose which weeks Smith plays, you’re shielding yourself from the risk that Smith becomes the next QB in a long line of supposed QB saviors in Kansas City that have come and failed.

Relying on Alex Smith as an every week starter in fantasy football can be tricky, and isn’t something I’m advocating. If you fill out your 2-QB roster with a stronger QB2 option, Smith could be a valuable member of your 2-QB fantasy football team, and one that could be had for cheap.

A 2-QB ADP for Smith of 90.7 means you’re not burning a high draft pick on somebody that could turn out to be a potential bust. In 12 team 2-QB leagues, Smith would cost you a pick in the 8th round, and in 10-team 2-QB leagues, he’s a 9th round pick. If you can grab Smith that late in your draft, you’re looking at a player that could provide you with solid QB2 numbers, and even maybe, just maybe, become a low end QB1 option in fantasy.

Whether you’re looking for a QB3 bye-week filler for your QB1 and QB2, or somebody to pair with a match-up friendly QB2 option like Josh Freeman for streaming purposes, Smith should be high atop your list of considerations. If everything falls into place for Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs, you might also be able to turn Smith into a valuable trade asset, that will yield a player taken much higher in the 9th round. That’s just one more benefit to taking a chance on Smith in your 2-QB draft this year.

Stats used in this article are courtesy of NFLData.com, TheFakeFootball.com, rotoViz.com, 4for4.com, ProFootballFocus, and ForensicFantasy.com

*Smith’s numbers for Weeks 10 and 17 weren’t used for this study.

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