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Panthers Film Room: Can Torrey Smith replicate Ted Ginn’s success in Carolina?

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The Panthers added a ‘deep threat’ wide receiver by trading for Torrey Smith. Can he have the same success in Carolina that Ted Ginn did a few years ago?

NFL: NFC Championship-Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Marty Hurney decided to dive into the trade market on Friday by trading cornerback Daryl Worley to the Philadelphia Eagles for wide receiver Torrey Smith. Hurney has constantly made remarks about his quest to add more speed at the wide receiver position. There is no question that the Panthers need more talent and speed at receiver.

Love him or hate him, but Ted Ginn was missed in Carolina last season. His ability to get vertical stretched defenses and kept them honest. With that said, is Torrey Smith an ideal replacement? Let’s start with a quantitative analysis on Smith’s 2017 season.

Quantitative analysis

Smith finished with 36 catches, 430 yards, and two touchdowns in 2017. There are more efficient methods to quantify wide receivers, so let’s examine closer.

According to Pro Football Focus, Smith was ranked 115th out of 118 qualifying wide receivers. The former Maryland Terp had a bad case of drops too. Smith’s drop rate ranked sixth out of all receivers who received 25% of targets.

One of my favorite metrics for evaluating receivers is yards per route run. It’s the number of yards a receiver picks up on a per route basis. A score above 1.50 is considered to be above average. Smith’s final YPRR was 0.97, which was fourth on the Eagles. For comparison, Devin Funchess’ YPRR was 1.63 and Damiere Byrd’s was 1.03.

There’s an assumption that Smith is a valuable deep threat, but the numbers paint a different picture. Smith received 15 deep targets, but only five were caught. According to PFF, eight of the deep passes were catchable while three were drops. On the contrary, in 2016 Ted Ginn caught eight of his deep passes out of 18 targets. He only had two drops on those attempts. In addition, Ginn scored four touchdowns off deep passes.

Film analysis

Smith was primarily used as an outside flanker in Doug Pederson’s offense. He certainly has the speed to stack defenders. This is especially true when corners are playing off coverage.

The first throw was under thrown, but Smith’s head nod during his route allows him to create deep separation. On the second throw, Smith sells his route by working up field outside the numbers. Marcus Peters reacts as if Smith is running a nine route, but instead the receiver breaks inside. The third attempt is an example of the creativity of the Eagles scheme plus Smith’s understanding of vacated areas in zone. The stacked alignment places stress on the deep sideline corner who has to decide which receiver to match. The corner matches with the vertical receiver. Smith utilizes an effective stutter at the top of his break to create a large window for Carson Wentz.

Unlike Ginn, Smith has issues defeating press coverage. Instead of using his hands to create movement, Smith tries to win with footwork. As a result, the corner reads his release and the timing of the throw is off.

On this attempt, Smith attempts to win outside on Bradley Roby. However, Smith doesn’t create separation within his route. He attempts to use a hand stab while he’s running, but Roby fights back and prevents Smith from gaining any room. This is a perfectly legal act by Roby as both players are attempting to gain leverage.

Another notable issue is his creativity on non vertical routes. If Smith is going to be a one trick pony as a vertical threat, then eventually defenses are going to play “cloud” coverage. That essentially means they will send safety help to protect over the top. Therefore, receivers have to be diverse within their route tree. Smith does not do a good job of selling his route up field, which allows the corner to contain his movement and press him to the sideline.

Smith’s route running in the short area could also improve. He rounds his route outside, which allows the corner back to break on the ball.

As shown on his rep against Josh Norman, Smith’s head movement within his vertical routes are the best part of his game. It causes the defender to react in one direction while Smith works in the opposite direction.

While the majority of his reps against press were negative, he did have a few moments where he played above his frame. He executes a double swipe on the corner. Then he presents himself as a target to box out the defender.

Smith had seven drops on the season, but these four were egregious. The Panthers have enough receivers with questionable hands. The drops aren’t the issue, but the catch technique is. It’s hard to trust Smith as reliable if he’s dropping passes this blatantly.

Final take

Smith will be called upon to take the Z-role in Norv Turner’s offense. The Ted Ginn comparisons are off base though. Smith can stretch a defense, but the Eagles creative passing scheme put him in favorable situations. It remains to be seen how diverse Turner’s passing offense will be.

Smith is also being brought in to provide a “veteran presence” for the receivers room. The intangible stuff is overblown, but Ron Rivera has always felt strongly about it.

All in all, I don’t think the Panthers upgraded the receiver position simply off this trade. There is still time to add more talent through free agency and the draft. Let’s hope this isn’t the only move they make to revamp their receiver unit.