DeVonta Smith is coming off a quality rookie season that he will look to build upon in 2022. The question for dynasty fantasy football managers is whether Smith can become a true WR1 or if he is destined to be a complementary No. 2 to a currently nonexistent WR1? The answer will dictate how dynasty managers should value Smith in 2022 and beyond.
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DeVonta Smith’s dynasty profile for 2022
At 6’0”, 170 pounds, Smith entered the NFL as one of the more polarizing wide receiver prospects in recent memory. He was an elite college producer, particularly in his final two seasons at Alabama, and won the Heisman as a senior.
After his rookie season, it’s fair to say Smith belongs in the NFL. He posted 916 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns on 64 receptions. His ability to command a 22% target share as a rookie — which was the highest on the Eagles — establishes him as a starting-caliber wide receiver in the NFL.
The biggest question for fantasy managers is how high can Smith go? What is his ceiling? Despite his small stature, Smith played in all 17 games as a rookie. As long as he doesn’t willingly invite big hits, it’s fair to say durability isn’t a concern.
Can Smith take another step forward as a sophomore and emerge as a true WR1? The answer to this question is crucial in determining how dynasty managers should value Smith going forward.
Fantasy projection for Smith
As a rookie, Smith averaged 10.9 PPR fantasy points per game. He finished as the overall WR41 (minimum eight games played). While he didn’t make a significant fantasy impact, Smith’s production as a rookie is very encouraging. Historically, rookie wide receivers need to top roughly 500 yards to go on to have successful careers. Smith soared past that number. Despite not being a difference-maker in fantasy, Smith’s Year 1 production suggests he will take a step forward in his second season.
I don’t view Smith as a true NFL WR1. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t become a capable fantasy producer. The Eagles are completely bereft of talent at the WR position behind Smith. They’re almost certainly going to spend top-three-round draft capital on someone they hope can be a true alpha WR1. Smith would benefit from playing that WR2 role.
If Jalen Hurts can improve as a passer and provide Smith with a higher rate of catchable targets, Smith can improve upon his 62% catch rate. His ceiling in that area is much higher as he’s likely better used as an underneath receiver. With that said, it’s also encouraging that Smith was targeted downfield as a rookie. His 14.4 average depth of target (aDOT) was sixth amongst all wide receivers. Additionally, he saw 26 deep targets, the ninth most last season.
I fully expect Smith to progress in his second NFL season. His rookie performance shouldn’t even be viewed as his floor because it’s higher than that. At worst, Smith should be a mid-to-low WR3 in fantasy with the upside to push mid-WR2 numbers if things break right.
What is Smith’s future beyond 2022?
Dynasty managers need not concern themselves with Smith’s long-term future. He’s just 23 years old and entering his second NFL season. Smith has a long career ahead of him. Currently, he’s tied to Hurts, who will be just 24 years old in 2022. The pair can continue to build rapport and remain connected together for the next several years if things go well. If not, Smith will likely have a new quarterback in 2023 or 2024.
Either way, Smith didn’t exactly benefit from stellar quarterback play as a rookie. This early in a player’s career, fantasy managers should just be betting on talent. Smith may never become the elite talent his early first-round NFL Draft capital suggests he should be. Still, he can be a competent wide receiver — both in fantasy and reality — for the next decade.
What can fantasy managers expect from Smith?
I would be stunned if Smith didn’t become a 1,000-yard receiver this season. His rookie target share was encouraging, but it’s important to take everything in context. I don’t ever see Smith eclipsing a 25% target share. While that’s a great percentage, the Eagles are never going to be a team that throws it much more than 500 times with Hurts at quarterback.
Last season, Hurts and Gardner Minshew combined to attempt 492 passes. Even with a 25% target share, that caps Smith’s total targets at around 120-125. Furthermore, I don’t think he’s going to see much more than a 20-22% target share, especially when the Eagles inevitably add a wide receiver. So, Smith will have to improve his fantasy value with efficiency, which I think he can do.
With that said, I wouldn’t get too lofty with any aspirations of greatness. It’s difficult to see Smith improving too much upon his 14.3 yards per reception. Even if he can get his catch rate to push 70% and his total targets up to 115, we’re looking at about 80 catches for 1,150 yards. Assuming a relatively normal touchdown output of around 6-8, Smith should average around 14 PPR fantasy points per game. That’s an excellent season, but it still only puts him around a mid WR3.
Dynasty managers should value Smith as exactly that — a mid WR3 with upside given how young he is. I wouldn’t consider him a buy or a sell. He’s a young, talented player with a skill set and physical build that likely caps his ceiling. Smith has value in fantasy, but it will be relative to your specific team needs in 2022 and beyond.