Ito Smith Fantasy Outlook: Start or sit in Week 16

After being announced as the Atlanta Falcons lead running back, can Ito Smith help fantasy football managers succeed in Week 16? Let’s take a look at Smith’s career so far, the situation in Atlanta, and his matchup in Week 16.

Ito Smith has not made much impact in fantasy leagues so far in his career

Through nearly three seasons, Ito Smith has not done much to excite fantasy managers. After being drafted in the fourth round out of Southern Miss, Smith has 162 career carries for 634 rushing yards. In the passing game, he has added 302 yards on 53 receptions from 67 targets. In total, he has scored six touchdowns in his career, all in the run game.

Over the course of his three seasons, Smith averages just 5.4 fantasy points per game. However, that is an unfair marker, given he has rarely been given a heavy workload. Of his 50 carries in 2020, 37 have come in the past four games. He has averaged 8.2 fantasy points per game during that stretch, with 17.5 coming in Week 12.

Smith saw some increased opportunities in his rookie season

In terms of fantasy points per game and carries, Ito Smith’s rookie season was the best of his young career. With injuries ravaging the Falcons backfield, Smith consistently received anywhere between four and 11 carries per game. He scored double-digits in fantasy points four times in that season, three of which came when he saw double-digit carries.

However, since that rookie season, Smith has seen just a further 72 carries. However, after averaging a poor 3.5 yards per attempt in his rookie season, he has averaged 4.43 yards per attempt in the past two seasons.

Does Ito Smith have a chance to dominate carries for the Falcons?

After head coach Raheem Morris announced Smith would be the lead back, there was some excitement around what we could see. However, while there is rightful optimism, it should be tinged with caution. In his time as the lead back, Todd Gurley only saw 20 or more carries three times. When Gurley was out, Brian Hill and Ito Smith effectively split carries. Both Gurley and Hill remain in the mix for the Falcons, limiting the upside we can expect from Smith.

Despite what Morris said, Smith’s output has been mixed

Despite the glowing praise from his head coach, there should be caution around Ito Smith. The young running back has hardly lit up the box score in recent weeks. Week 12 saw success, as he carried the ball 12 times for 65 yards and a touchdown. He added four receptions on five targets but only totaled 10 receiving yards.

Related | Fantasy RB Rankings Week 16: David Montgomery headlines sleepers, must starts, busts

Since then, he had eight carries for 36 yards against the New Orleans Saints, and then 11 carries for 42 yards against the Los Angeles Chargers. In the Week 15 loss to the Buccaneers, Smith had six carries for 24 yards. During that three-week stretch, he has added just four receptions on six targets for 10 receiving yards.

Over those last three weeks, we have seen Smith’s snap share increase. In Week 15, Smith got as high as 48% of the Falcons snaps. How many more could he see as the starter? The highest number of snaps Todd Gurley saw as the starter was 71%. That is perhaps the realistic ceiling for what we can expect from Smith this week.

Should you start or sit Ito Smith in your Week 16 fantasy playoff matchup?

Usually, when a player gets named a starter, it is a wonderful opportunity for fantasy managers. However, just because he is the lead back entering Week 15, it does not assure success for Smith. Let’s take a look at his matchup for Week 16.

The Kansas City Chiefs offer potential upside, but also plenty of risk for Ito Smith in fantasy

The Chiefs defense ranks 18th in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs (23.3). They allow 97.5 yards per game on the ground and 43.6 yards per game to the position through the air. With just six rushing touchdowns, they are tied for the fewest allowed, and they rank as the second-best defense in the league in terms of fantasy points allowed in the red zone.

The additional problem facing the Chiefs is that the game script can lead to inconsistency in the run game production. That is the reason why the Chiefs defense ranks as the eighth-toughest matchup for the position according to Pro Football Network’s Defensive Points Allowed Consistency Score. Despite allowing over 20 fantasy points per game on average, teams often have to get away from their run game to remain competitive with the Chiefs’ offense.

Week 16 carries a lot of risk in terms of starting Ito Smith

Ito Smith could absolutely find success in this game. However, there is a good chance he sees under 10 carries and struggles for any impact. The Chiefs’ offense is unlikely to struggle to move the ball, and the Falcons could be playing from behind in the second half. With the running back position not having been a big part of the Falcons passing game, that isn’t nice for Smith’s fantasy value.

Smith has the upside to produce as he did in Week 12 (17.5 fantasy points) as the lead back. However, unless your running backs have been ravaged by injuries these last two weeks, it is hard to imagine Smith being a player worth the risk of starting. His floor sits in the five-point region, and his ceiling appears to be capped at around the 15-20-point mark. While this is certainly not terrible, Ito Smith is a risky fantasy option in Week 16.

Want more fantasy football analysis and news?

Be sure to follow us on Twitter: @PFN365 to stay up to date with all things around the NFL and the 2020 fantasy football season. Also, continue to visit Pro Football Network for NFL news and in-depth analysis while also seeing our fantasy football section for more coverage and up-to-date rankings.

Ben Rolfe is a Senior Managing Editor at Pro Football Network and is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can find him on Twitter @BenRolfePFN.