Andy Dalton and Alex Smith are both coming off poor seasons, leaving many within the fantasy football community apathetic towards drafting them. At first glance, I understand the feeling. Both Dalton and Smith have been labeled as “game managers,” and have demonstrated over the course of their careers that they do not have the ability to elevate the players surrounding them like Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning. Alas, even Joe Flacco would agree that Andy Dalton and Alex Smith are not “elite.” However, both QBs are proven NFL starters who have been gifted with the necessary offensive weaponry to be productive fantasy football assets.
Andy Dalton: Healthy Weapons Locked And Loaded
Last year the Bengals air attack was dismantled by injuries. Tyler Eifert was done for the season after he suffering a dislocated elbow on his third target of the season. Eifert’s injury highlighted an unfortunate trend — tight ends suffer the highest physical fragility rate of any NFL skill position. Beyond Eifert, Marvin Jones suffered a series of lower-leg injuries sending him to I.R. before the 2014 season even began. Various injuries also plagued A.J. Green, causing him to miss games as well as limit his on the field play-making abilities. Giovanni Bernard sustained a hip-injury in week 11 that rendered him ineffective for the rest of the season. With his skill position players’ health restored, Andy Dalton‘s supporting cast will be superior to the group that propelled to top-5 fantasy QB status in 2013.
While A.J. Green’s 2014 season was mildly disappointing, he was nonetheless a top-5 fantasy wide receiver the previous two seasons. If he can stay healthy, he should put up the numbers we’ve grown accustom to seeing. Even while playing hurt and bouncing in and out of the line-up last year he was still able to log another 1,000-yard season. Until he proves otherwise, Green belongs in the class of perennial WR1s and should make plenty of plays as Dalton’s go to guy.
In 2013, Marvin Jones performed great in virtually every efficiency ranking used on PlayerProfiler.com. Jones ranked No. 10 in Production Premium, No. 7 in Target Premium, and No. 4 in Fantasy Points Per Target. Jones was also impossible to stop in the red-zone during the 2013 season. He ranked No. 1 in red-zone catch rate, pulling in 85.7-percent of passes thrown to him in that area, including 9 of his 10 total touchdowns that season. Marvin Jones’ return gives Dalton an extremely efficient receiver who should be primed to take the next step and become a legitimate WR2.
Jermaine Gresham’s departure to Arizona opens the door for Tyler Eifert. A first round pick in 2013, Eifert has the size and measurables desired at TE. Eifert posted a agility score and catch radius in the 87th-percentile making him the ideal offensive miss match to catch Dalton’s throws over the middle of the field. His 29.6-percent College Dominator Rating (82nd-percentile) suggests he should be able to make the transition to this role sooner rather than later.
Alex Smith: Feels Like The First Time He’s Had Weapons
Alex Smith finished QB19 in total fantasy points scored last season despite playing with receivers who did not catch a single touchdown in 2014. Outside of Jamaal Charles and Travis Kelce, Smith didn’t have much to work with last year. The Chiefs addressed this issue through free agency and the draft, as well as continued development of young promising talent.
Signing Jeremy Maclin this offseason is a significant upgrade over the Chief’s former No. 1 WR Dwayne Bowe. On PlayerProfiler, Maclin enjoyed a +27.3 Production Premium differential over Bowe (+18.0 vs. -9.3) in 2014 — an efficiency chasm. Maclin certainly has the ability to stretch the field vertically, but that isn’t necessarily the best use of his skills in conjunction with Alex Smith. Smith has been labeled a “checkdown artist” throughout his career, and he delivered on that reputation last season when he ranked No. 31 in the NFL in deep pass attempts (20-plus yards) and No. 37 in Deep Pass Completion Percentage. Maclin is know as a versatile route technician, which aligns well with Smith’s strengths. Alex Smith’s efficiency will surely rise with Maclin gaining separation on short and intermediate passes. Last year Maclin ranked No. 7 in Yards After Catch, and No. 3 in Contested Catch Rate, meaning that he will be able to provide the tough grabs and plays after the catch that Alex Smith has been dreaming of.
Although the signing of Jeremy Maclin has been the biggest story for the Chiefs’ this off-season, the player that could have the biggest impact on the offense this season (besides Jamaal Charles) is tight end Travis Kelce. Kelce’s best player comparable is Rob Gronkowski, and speaks to the potential this young pass catcher has going in to his third NFL season. Last year Kelce was top-5 in reception yards, Target Premium, and Catch Rate among tight ends as well as No. 1 in yards after the catch (much to Alex Smith’s delight). His 6-5, 260-pounds frame and impressive Catch radius should serve Smith well in the red-zone. Kelce was top-10 in Red-Zone Receptions, Red-Zone Catch Rate, and Contested Catch Conversion Rate for TEs a year ago.
Albert Wilson absolutely destroyed the competition he faced while in college at Georgia State, and his 59.9-percent College Dominator Rating (99th-percentile) is a testament to that. He began building an on field rapport with Alex Smith late last season, and showed glimpses of what made him successful in college – particularly on deep balls. If Wilson can continue progressing and take the next step in his second year in the league, he would serve as a great complementary receiver in Andy Reid’s offense.
There may have not been a bigger stand out in this years NFL Scouting Combine than Chris Conley who looks like the unholy combination of Charles Johnson, Robert Meachem, and Martavis Bryant only his 130.8 (98th-percentile) SPARQ-x is higher than those size-speed freaks that came before him. Given the Chiefs’ shallow WR depth chart, Conley’s athleticism alone will win him playing time. Conley is a dynamic deep threat that can absolutely fly. If utilized in this capacity he can really stretch a defense vertically and open up even more opportunities for Maclin, Kelce, Wilson, and Charles.
This is the best group playmakers Alex Smith and Andy Dalton have commanded since entering the league. Both have been able to do more with less in the past – just two years ago, Smith posted fantasy QB13 numbers, and Dalton finished the season as the fantasy QB4. Even if they fail to live up to their 2013 positional ranks, Smith’s QB23 MyFantasyLeague.com money league ADP is four spots lower than he finished last year, and Dalton’s QB24 MFL ADP is six spots lower than last season’s fantasy output. Both ADPs are heavily-influenced by last year’s sub-par performances as well as an overarching negative perception in the national sports media. With Smith and Dalton currently priced at their respective floors, few quarterbacks are better positioned to out-perform their ADP in 2015.