It’s no secret that the San Francisco 49ers struggled to get big plays through the air on offense in 2014.
San Franciso’s passing attack ranked 30th overall in the NFL, and were also near the bottom in yards per attempt (29th), first downs by passing (26th), and touchdown passes (25th).
QB Colin Kaepernick was tied for 29th out of all quarterbacks with only five completions of 40 yards or more. In turn, no 49er offensive player with more than 14 receptions averaged above 12.8 yards per catch. That means the Niners didn’t have a single player who qualified even rank in the top 50 in that department.
The biggest reason for their lack of explosiveness was the overall absence of speed from their receiving options. TE Vernon Davis was a shell of himself for most of the season, and while WR Anquan Boldin, WR Michael Crabtree and WR Stevie Johnson are all brand names, their game’s are better suited for working underneath.
GM Trent Baalke recognized the need for someone who can scare defenses down the field, and handed out the richest free agent contract for an offensive player in the history of the franchise to WR Torrey Smith.
On the surface, Smith’s overall production doesn’t quite measure up with the 5 year, $40 million deal he received. During his four year’s with the Baltimore Ravens, Smith averaged 3.3 catches and 56.1 yards per game while scoring 30 total touchdowns. That would put his average season at 53 receptions, 898 yards and 7.5 scores. Those are good statistics, but not quite number one receiver type output.
When you look deeper though, you’ll understand that the 49ers aren’t paying him to be something he’s not, they’re paying to do what he does best: Cause havoc deep down field.
Out of Smith’s 434 career targets, 142 of them have come on throws of over 20 yards or more (33 percent). He’s caught 42 of those for 15 touchdowns. Kaepernick actually attempted 69 passes of 20 or more yards in 2014 (7th most in the NFL), and completed 22 of them. He only managed four touchdowns on those throws though, and was picked off five times.
Smith will without a doubt help Kaepernick to see more positive outcomes out of those attempts.
Another element Smith will bring to the 49ers is the ability to draw pass interference penalties, which can be just a good as a reception. In 2014 (including the playoffs), Smith drew 12 interference calls for 261 yards. That equals out to 21.7 yards per penalty.
Something else that can’t be overlooked is how Smith can help in the running game. It’s no secret the 49ers wants to run the ball often, but defenses will be reluctant to stack the box with the threat of Smith taking off. This will help to open up running lanes, and give Kaepernick and the offense better looks.
Smith looks to be in every way the missing the piece the 49ers’ offense so desperately needed. Expect him to play a big role in the game plan from the word go, and open up more opportunities for his teammates.