Torrey Smith officially signed a 5-Year 40 Million dollar contract with the 49ers (22 guaranteed). Some may wonder whether this kind of money is worth a Wide Receiver who only had 49 catches for 767 yards in 2014. However, Torrey Smith fits a need for the 49ers and gives QB Colin Kaepernick a consistent deep threat with elite speed.
While Torrey Smith only had 49 catches, he still was able to haul in 11 Touchdowns. More importantly, he lead the league in yards gained on pass interference penalties, drawing 12 pass interference calls for a whopping 261 yards. When this stat is accounted for, Smith’s total productivity ends up as a de facto 61 catches for 1,028 yards and 11 TDs– much more in line with a top level NFL deep threat. Over the past four seasons, Smith leads the league with 571 yards gained via pass interference penalties, over 300 yards more than the next receiver (A.J. Green). Torrey Smith’s speed based skill set fits very well with Colin Kaepernick’s extremely strong arm. While Kaepernick struggled at times with his progression and reads from the pocket, he continued to thrive as a passer outside the pocket and in the scramble drill:
Up until this point in his career, Kaepernick has thrived outside the pocket and scrambling without a true speedy deep threat. Torrey Smith’s speed and Kaepernick’s ability to extend plays could make for a great combination similar to Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown (as well as Mike Wallace & Emmanuel Sanders previously). Expect to see Torrey Smith use his speed to get behind defenses for big gains when Kaepernick extends plays with his legs.
Smith’s speed allows for easier throws for Kaepernick when defensive backs fear getting beat deep and give a big cushion. Below, the cornerback flips his hips quickly, and Torrey Smith has lots of space for yards after the catch.
Torrey Smith will also help Kaepernick’s pocket passing game by taking the top off of defenses and creating space underneath for other receivers, particularly Anquan Boldin. Boldin thrives against single coverage, where he can use his big frame to box out defenders and make tough contested catches. Keep in mind that Boldin and Smith complimented each other quite well in Baltimore with a strong armed quarterback at the helm.
Last year’s 49ers team had almost no deep threat, allowing defenses to clamp down. Smith almost always warrants some type of safety help and will thus stretch the defense. When opposing defenses play press coverage with a single safety in the middle of the field instead of a 2 safety shell, Kaepernick must exploit this matchup. If the 49ers can establish their running game like years past, Kaepernick is bound to see some loaded boxes with favorable match ups for Smith. Reviewing Torrey Smith’s 2014 film, what he does best is consistently beat any press man coverage. Smith uses his quickness to prevent getting jammed, and is simply too fast for a single high safety to come over and make a play.
Torrey Smith is at the bottom of the screen. Although there is an initial jam by #30 Jim Leonard, Joe Haden essentially has Smith man to man. Even with Haden’s large cushion, Smith runs by one of the top man to man corners in the NFL. This is a good sign for 49ers fans; Smith will face Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman four times a year in the NFC west, and must be able to challenge them vertically.
Once again, Smith is the receiver at the bottom of the screen. Here, Tennessee is in man to man with a single safety in the middle of the field (cover 1). Smith easily beats the cornerback for a TD in addition to drawing a holding penalty.
This time Torrey Smith is the receiver at the top of the screen against press man to man coverage, and once again beats the DB for a score.
Smith is the receiver at the top of the screen once again. He’s matched up against one of the better press cornerbacks in the league, Brandon Browner. Smith’s feet are too quick for Browner and Torrey runs right by Browner for a big gain along with a pass interference call
While the Torrey Smith and Colin Kaepernick combination certainly has potential, there are also issues that could prevent the duo from having sustained success. Smith is certainly an excellent deep threat, but sometimes struggles as an intermediate route runner. In particular, the weakest part of Smith’s game is getting in and out of breaks. This could be a problem given Kaepernick’s inconsistencies as a pocket passer. Finally, Kaepernick has a strong arm, but his deep ball accuracy wasn’t great in 2014. Even if Smith is open deep, Kaepernick must be able to take advantage. However, overall, look for Smith to provided a much needed deep threat that will stretch defenses and help the 49ers offense.