Eagles Film Room: How Torrey Smith’s dip in production may have propelled his career

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Coming into the 2015 season, the world was at the feet of wide receiver Torrey Smith. In four years with the Baltimore Ravens, Smith had simply dominated alongside Joe Flacco. The duo would make the playoffs three times and of course go all the way to the promised land by winning Super Bowl XLXVII. What followed was a move away from Baltimore, and a five-year $40M contract with San Francisco.

Unfortunately what followed was simply strange. Smith struggled to adapt to his new surroundings in 2015. After receiving for 767 yards in 2014, Smith’s first season in red and gold would see him muster up just 663 yards and 4 touchdowns. However, the silver lining was that Smith led the NFL in yards per reception. Something that seemed destined to fit perfectly in a new offense implemented by none other than Chip Kelly. That destiny was soon altered as Smith put up career lows across the board and saw his role diminish under the short-lived reign of the former Eagles Head Coach.

The one thing we learned in Smith’s 12 appearances for the Niners last year was that Chip Kelly simply had an overlooked flaw as a coach. The first signs were apparent during his final year in Philadelphia, in which DeMarco Murray was used in almost every facet other than that which he dominated the NFL in his years as a Dallas Cowboy. Smith suffered that same fate under Kelly, as well as some other setbacks that kept him chained down in San Francisco. But surprisingly, it’s these weights tied to Torrey Smith that led him to Philadelphia, arguably the perfect fit for a receiver of his prototype.

Smith joined the Niners with 44 25+ yard receptions. One would assume that under Chip Kelly, Smith would be used as a perennial deep threat. Instead, his opening games under Kelly saw him catching screens, slants and curls, marginalizing a skillset that was begging to be unleashed. Unfortunately, that was the least of Smith’s concerns.

 

Sporadic quarterback play:
The one thing that has always worked in Kelly’s favor is that he’s never really had a franchise quarterback at his disposal. From Foles and Sanchez, to Sam Bradford, Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick, it’s not like Chip has had a wealth of game-changing talent to work with. Unfortunately for Torrey Smith the difference between Joe Flacco and the arms situated in San Francisco was huge.

Those home-run hits that we were all too accustomed to seeing like his touchdowns against Denver and New England, were instead replaced with overthrows, underthrows or complete misfires. For instance on this play in the 4th quarter against the Dallas Cowboys, Smith is able to work his way inside on a corner route and gain a soft cushion of separation against Claiborne. The ball however finds its way to the Cowboys cornerback on an undethrown attempt, all but cementing a victory for the Eagles biggest rivals.

Against Buffalo, the story was very much the same. Smith does a great job of creating separation during the heart of the route after forcing his way past an aggress press coverage look. The wideout still has blinding speed if given room to burn, the problem is that the ball sailed over the head of Smith.

The same thing would happen later that game. Smith breaks inside and gains leverage as he storms to the endzone. Kaepernick places the ball just inside the endzone but too far away from his wideout who was almost certain to at least contest a would-be touchdown for the second time that day.

But what about when things went right? Smith wasn’t abysmal during the 2016 season and still averaged an impressive 13.4 yards per reception. It’s when you examine this where things suddenly become interesting from the perspective of the Eagles. What Smith showed in 2016 was everything the Eagles were pining for.

 

Slot solution:
As things stand, 2017 will act as the last mile before the Eagles hit a crucial crossroads. Who will be their slot receiver moving forward? Jordan Matthews is entering his final contracted year, and while fans have pined to see what Nelson Agholor can produce over the middle due to his USC dominance, there’s one more name worth considering should the Eagles decide to move on from Matthews, Torrey Smith. Smith has proven that his 6’0, 205 lbs, frame can be just as dangerous over the middle as it is on the outside.

Against the Panthers, we can see just how easily Smith can catch an unsuspecting Defense off guard for a 20-yard gain. He slides past the nickel corner and flips his hips nice and early to adjust to the incoming pass. A contested jump-ball is bought down securely and the chains are moved forward.

Later that game, Smith would line up in the slot again and very nearly come away with a home-run. The ball as underthrown, but the clean break inside saw Smith ready to slide past the single high Safety and take full advantage of a looming mismatch.

At the end of 2015, Smith wasn’t exactly known for his slot presence. But two of his 70-yard touchdowns had actually come from the left slot, which is where he lined up on both of these plays. It was interesting to see this combination, especially considering that in the year prior, it was Anquan Boldin usually lining up in the slot and Smith alongside him. It positions the idea that if the Eagles ever switched Matthews outside and put Smith in the slot, there could be a rare case of severe mismatches for opposing Defenses. We already know what Alshon Jeffery can bring over the middle…and if the Eagles can replicate that on the other side then this Offense could see a production carousel that just won’t stop spinning.

 

The home-runs:
If there’s one thing that Torrey Smith has become renowned for since arriving in the NFL, it’s taking the top off of opposing Defenses. He may not have the elite speed of some, but Smith brings with him some impressive YAC ability and a crisp route running to partner with his awareness.

Smith reaped the rewards of blown coverage by making an easy reception deep down the field and turning it into a score. A clean body catch and an impressive adjustment to get past the safety saw the pass go all the way to the endzone for six.

Against the Panthers, Smith once again showed just how dangerous he can be. An overly conservative James Bradberry fell victim to a quick stutter step from Smith, who then broke over the top knowing that the Safety had dropped, opening in a perfect throwing lane for his quarterback.

Against the Bucs, it was that same awareness that saw his opposing cornerback put on Skates inside the five. Smith came to an abrupt stop after seeing the corner flip his hips in anticipation of a dime into the back of the endzone. Smith immediately pulled on the brakes and turned around to make a clean reception deep inside enemy territory.

 

And then there’s the adjustment factor…and it’s something that will help Wentz tremendously heading into year two. I broke this down below, but the reason it’s so important is for the same reason Flacco was able to develop so much after entering the league. Having a presence who you can not only grow with, but will make adjustments in his own game to benefit yours helps an Offense tremendously, and it was something Wentz just didn’t have in year one.

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While Torrey Smith may have been exiled from the Niners after struggling to live up to his staggering deal, it’s important to realize the context of his career lows posted in 2016. The Eagles needed a receiver who embodied everything Smith bought to the table, and instead of chasing a prototype, they signed the archetype.

Now, the former Baltimore Ravens draft selection is once again supported by a franchise quarterback and an abundance of talent around him. From an incredibly intimidating offensive front, to a committee of running backs who would scare even the sternest of Defenses, and a wide receiver corps that should attract enough attention to allow Smith to do what he does best, which is simply decimate unsuspecting defensive backs and haul in those deep bombs that were simply shots in the dark for Carson Wentz in 2016.

Smith’s future in Philly may be uncertain due to the nature of a prove-it deal, but his Baltimore numbers need no explaining, and the difference a reliable quarterback can make to a career is astounding. It may be Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor catching all the attention, but it’s the 28-year old wideout who could benefit the most from a change of scenery, and that same receiver who could elevate the Offense just as he did for another small school quarterback just a few years ago.

Torrey Smith and the Philadelphia Eagles are a perfect fit for each other…and that bodes very well for an offense craving production through the air moving forward. How long this love affair will last remains to be seen, but all the stars are aligning for Torrey Smith. Sometimes you have to fall before you fly, and Smith may be set to soar into orbit.

 

Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

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