At the current moment Tre’Quan Smith is best known for being the guy that caught the record breaker from Drew Brees. Brees surpassed Peyton Manning with the 62 yard bomb down the right sideline to the rookie for his first career NFL catch. It may take some time, but Smith is going to be known for a whole lot more than that sooner rather than later.
He didn’t come from a small school (Central Florida) but he played at a school that was usually off the national radar. Draftniks were aware of him leading up to April’s draft, but not many else were. It was very interesting following the pre-draft build-up, continuing to not see his name becoming more of a household name. His 2017 production jumps off the page, but there’s that pesky lack of competition hurdle to cross. Regardless, 59 catches for 1,171 yards (19.8 yards per catch), and 13 touchdowns (5 of 40+ yards) is a great place to start. Dig a little deeper and we uncover a head turning catch rate on deep passes of 71% as well. Queue up his tape and you don’t just see a one-speed burner; you see a bigger receiver that moves unusually well in-and-out of his breaks. Then the NFL combine comes and goes with him tearing it up to the tune of a sub 4.5 40, 37.5” vertical, 10’10” broad jump, and gorilla-like 34.5” arms. It’s not breaking the scales from an athleticism point of view, but it’s in one of the upper tiers. Combine those measureables with his gameday production and you have a player NFL teams will fawn over, right?
Wrong. He continued to slip under the radar before finally falling off the board shortly before the end of day two – the 91st pick late in round three. He could not have ended up in a better situation though. That deep catch rate I mentioned earlier? That’s a good fit with one of the game’s best deep ball passers, who despite being in the twilight of his career was 2nd in the league in 2017. Additionally, the Saints are a factory of producing quality Top-100 skill position players. The list of them over the last 10 years is littered with stars and notably zero misses – Jimmy Graham, Mark Ingram, Brandin Cooks, Michael Thomas, and Alvin Kamara. The stars were aligning, so he would then become a hot name in fantasy circles, right?
As crazy as it is the trend continued. Smith routinely fell to the 3rd and 4th rounds of rookie drafts throughout summer and despite a strong preseason he’s remained an afterthought to many. On the heels of his breakout on prime time that’s all about to change as 33 year-old Ted Ginn’s injury opened the door to playing time and Smith took advantage. With a year-to-date line of 12 catches on 22 targets (56% catch rate) and 135 yards (11.3 yards per catch/6.1 yards per target) it’s looking like father time has finally caught up with the former speedster. Reportedly, Ted Ginn isn’t going to be fully healthy even after the two weeks to rest either; knees take longer to heal when you get older after all. He still has a place on the roster, but it’s down the pecking order. Cameron Meredith’s return from a serious knee injury hasn’t been a smooth one either and he also had a quality game on prime time before the bye week, but he doesn’t offer the same skill-set as Smith. Ben Watson has been cheating NFL death for what seems like years and he’s still a productive piece of the offense (17 catches, 22 targets, 187 yards), but he’s the veteran leader looked to when the chains need moved; not making big plays down the field. That’s what this offense needs to become the Saints offense we’ve grown accustomed; the one that maximizes Brees’ ability to go down field. Smith’s the one with the skill and the track record of making plays down field to break open that lid.
This breakout may not be immediate, but the high leverage looks are going to come. The Waiver Wire doesn’t have much to get excited about this week, so this is a good time for a preemptive strike rather than a reactionary one. The 67% snap count he saw Week 5 is not going to be an outlier. He also isn’t reliant on the deep-ball to make due, so he’s not the high variance type that’s difficult to deploy. He’s adept on shallow crosses and comebacks, which will only open up opportunities for double moves. By the time his game kicks off this weekend it’ll have been almost two weeks since he made his presence known on the main stage and while many have already forgotten about him (just 3.5% owned in ESPN!) that’s going to change very quickly.
This week’s Flavor of the Week: A big bowl of gumbo.
Why gumbo? Because it’s New Orleans and it’s freakin’ good. Do you really need more explanation than that? Add him.