Is Torrey Smith really a 'one-trick pony'?

June, 16, 2014
Jun 16
8:30
AM ET
The Baltimore Ravens' Torrey Smith ranked No. 6 among wide receivers entering the final year of their contracts, according to the rankings by ESPN's Mike Sando.

One anonymous general manager told Sando that Smith doesn't rank higher because "he's a bit of a one-trick pony [as a downfield threat]."

Is it valid to put that label on Smith? The statistics say yes.

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Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Ravens would like Torrey Smith to become a more versatile receiver.
Last season, Smith led all NFL players in the most targets and routes run on passes that travel over 20 yards in the air. He was targeted 34 times on such passes, two more than Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace. It should be noted that Wallace was referred to as a one-trick pony by Steelers coach Mike Tomlin during his days in Pittsburgh, and Smith trumped him in running deep.

Of the 130 passes thrown Smith's way last year, 26 percent went over 20 yards in the air. Compare that rate to the receivers ranked ahead of him like Denver's Demaryius Thomas (18.5 percent), Dallas' Dez Bryant (15 percent) and Green Bay's Jordy Nelson (14 percent). It's not even close when you look at the number of times Joe Flacco flings the ball deep to Smith.

Where Smith has to become more of a complete receiver is on the shorter passes. Last season, he had 39 catches on throws that traveled 10 yards or less in the air, which ranked 71st among NFL players. Marlon Brown, an undrafted rookie, had one more reception on those shorter passes than Smith in 2013.

No one is saying the Ravens should stop throwing deep to Smith. His speed is his biggest asset, and he has been one of the better downfield threats in the NFL over the past three seasons. But Smith has to become more of a target on slants, comeback routes and quick outs. Those types of routes increase the efficiency of an offense.

The numbers show that Smith has made strides in getting rid of that one-trick pony perception. In his first two seasons, 34 percent of the passes thrown to Smith went over 20 yards in the air. So that rate did drop significantly last season.

What should help Smith is the addition of Steve Smith and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. Steve Smith's presence should limit defenses from bracketing their coverages on Torrey Smith all game. Smith drew all the attention last season when the Ravens were without Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta.

Kubiak is also known for not taking as many deep shots. In the past four seasons, Baltimore ranked second in air yards per pass attempt, which reflects how far the ball travels past the line of scrimmage to its target on average. In Houston, Kubiak's offenses were 27th in that category during the same period. If this trend continues under Kubiak, the Ravens could look to get the ball quicker to Smith.

Asked about his learning curve with Kubiak's offense, Torrey Smith said, “I understand football, so it’s not really hard. The biggest thing is remembering the terminology. It’s a lot faster today than it was yesterday and, obviously, a few weeks ago. I think when it’s all said and done, I think we’ll be fine.”

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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