Crazy are the factors that play in this guessing game, but trying to predict a fourth-year receiver's performance is more challenging than trying to figure out what to purchase your significant other ... on your fourth Valentine's Day.
Torrey Smith, the offense's deep threat, is heading into Season Four with the Ravens. And the only question Fantasy Football owners want answered is, do I draft the man!? Gary Kubiak, right? Making an educated guess for petty Fantasy Football purposes is entertaining until the headache hits. We all know that the only number that matters is the green one under the win column.
In 48 games, Smith has started 46 of them, accumulating 164 receptions, 2824 yards, and 19 touchdowns. Since 2011 his touchdown catches per season has regressed. He was in the backseat with four touchdown receptions in 2013 behind rookie Marlon Brown, who caught seven. Of course, last year's totals seem trifling when you notice Dallas Clark had three and Ray Rice, who finished with 58 receptions, had none.
Read fast: as a rookie, Smith thrived in former Ravens coordinator Cam Cameron's offensive scheme. In the wideout's first campaign as a pro he hauled in 50 passes for 841 yards and crossed the goal line seven times. (Marlon Brown numbers, anyone?) Smith showed up in 2012, both regular season and post, contributing to a potent offense that prospered under Cameron and Jim Caldwell, who is now serving as the Lions' head coach. We know how Smith fared last year--his numbers launched but the team ultimately missed its goal of making the postseason by a long shot. (And yes, an 8-8 record in the AFC is not even close.)
Before I go off on a tangent, I traveled back in time to stat-check the league's premier receivers from the past decade, trying to figure out if the Ravens' Smith (who's shown progress every year) is following the right trend. Here's what I discovered:
Swoop but Soar
DeSean Jackson's First Three Seasons: 45 games, 44 starts, 171 receptions, 3124 yards, 18 YPC, 17 TD
Year Four in 2011: 58 rec, 961 yards, 16.6 YPC, 4 TD
After the strange, season-long tryout between Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick resolved (bye Kolb), the Eagles spread the ball often to keep defenses off balance. Led by quarterback Michael Vick, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg distributed equal portions to satisfy the hands of tight end Brent Celek and Jeremy Maclin in 2011. What could have ended bad for Jackson didn't, as he took liftoff and soared in 2013, shredding defenses for 1,332 yards and 9 touchdowns, courtesy of a flawless Nick Foles.
Brandon Marshall's First Three Season: 61 games (45 starts), 226 receptions, 2,899 yards, 13 YPC, 15 TD
Year Four in 2009: 101 rec, 1,120 yards, 11.1 YPC, 10 TD
The Broncos brought in OC Mike McCoy in 2009. Before McCoy, Denver had Rick Dennison coordinating the offense. McCoy had half of Kyle Orton's 21 touchdowns thrown to Marshall and the rest is history. No. 15 is on his third team in his nine-year career. His worst seasons (when he swooped) were with the Miami Dolphins but has been ever since soaring above clouds since 2012 after joining the Bears. Will he surpass 1,000 yards receiving for the eighth straight time?
Best Man On The Team
Anquan Boldin's First Three Seasons: 40 games (39 starts), 259 receptions, 3,402 yards, 13 YPC, 16 TD
Year Four in 2006: 83 rec, 1,203 yards, 14.5 YPC, 4 TD
Boldin, like Moss and Wayne had someone on the other side to make it easy. The possession receiver moved the chains over and over throughout his career, and was the best man on the team in his fourth season. His reliable hands and durability to handle the workload of a primary receiver amplified in 2006, leading the team in receptions and catching nearly 1/4 of the 17 combined touchdown passes (Leinart 11, Warner 6).
Return to Planet Earth
Mike Wallace's First Three Seasons: 48 Games, 34 starts, 171 receptions, 3206 yards, 19 YPC, 24 TD
Year Four in 2012: 64 rec, 836 yards, 13.1 YPC, 8 TD
His catch total wasn't all that low, he only trailed behind his Steelers cohorts Antonio Brown (66) and Heath Miller (71). What he did bring to the table was a label that he should have stripped off immediately. The One-Trick Pony who could only do it all during the warmer months felt like he needed a change. So he relocated to Miami. His first three seasons totals almost mirror Smiths'. Is Smith the next Wallace? Is that a legitimate question?
Why Stop F/Beasting?
Randy Moss' First Three Seasons: 48 games (43 starts), 226 receptions, 4,163 yards, 18 YPC, 43 TD
Year Four in 2001: 82 rec, 1,233 yards, 15.0 YPC, 10 TD
He averaged more than 14 touchdowns (14.333) per season between 1998-2000. On paper it seems that he regressed, but no, Moss surpassed 100 yards four times AND scored eight of his 10 touchdowns in the latter half of the regular season. Readers, it's never about how you start, it's about how you finish. Moss was also the best man on the team, not Cris Carter.
Calvin Johnson's First Three Seasons: 45 Games (40 starts), 193 receptions, 3,071 yards, 16 YPC, 21 TD
Year Four in 2010: 77 rec, 1,120 yards, 14.5 YPC, 12 TD
Imagine if Johnson didn't sit out with an ankle injury and played the game against the 6-10 Minnesota Vikings in the regular season finale. Headache? Johnson was unstoppable under offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, and over the years since Year Four, Megatron's evolution has developed into something indescribable.
Reggie Wayne's First Three Seasons: 45 Games (32 starts), 144 receptions, 1,899 yards, 13 YPC, 11 TD
Year Four in 2004: 77 rec, 1,210 yards, 15.7 YPC, 12 TD
Peyton Manning almost guarantees his receivers one thing: you will break out. He doesn't say when, but inevitably, they do. Wayne, Marvin Harrison and Brandon Stokley (yes the former Raven) all surpassed 1,000 yards in 2004 with the Indianapolis Colts. Wayne, nor Stokley, accomplished that task (Stokley never again), before the '04 season, and still these two wideouts are guys I would want on my team any day of the week.
Larry Fitzgerald's First Three Seasons: 45 Games (45 starts), 230 receptions, 3,135 yards, 14 YPC, 24 touchdowns
Year Four in 2007: 100 rec, 1,409, 14.1 YPC, 10 TD
Fitzgerald's averages from 2004-06: 77 catches, 1,048 yards, 8 TD. In his fourth campaign, Fitz Super Smashed those numbers and made the Pro Bowl squad. The suave Fitzgerald and his partner in crime Boldin journeyed to the Super Bowl in 2008 but got snipped by the Steelers in the waning seconds. #BooSantonio
Gregg Jennings' First Three Seasons: 43 games, 178 receptions, 2,844 yards, 16 YPC, 24 TD
Year Four in 2009: 68 rec, 1,113 yards, 16.4 YPC, 4 TD
Under OC Joe Philbin, Jennings and Donald Driver surpassed the 1K yard milestone in 2009. That year also marked the final year Driver would see 1,000 again. Jennings on the other hand, has clung to the four-digit number (or at least gotten close to) since 2010. I say he's consistent, and he'll have to fulfill these empty words in 2014 with an unknown quarterback. I believe he will. Do you?
Mr. Who's That?
Roy Williams' First Three Starts: 43 games (39 starts), 181 receptions, 2,814 yards, 16 YPC, 23 TD
Year Four in 2007: 64 rec, 838 yards, 13.1 YPC, 5 TD
It doesn't help when your starting quarterback is Jon Kitna. Williams had the world believing "Future Hall of Famer" when he finished his campaign with 1,310 yards on 82 catches in 2006.
Nobody knows what will happen tomorrow but for now, take the poll below?