By Matt Kelley (@Fantasy_Mansion)
Special to Yahoo Sports
The year is 2015. Steve Smith Sr. is enjoying an astounding career renaissance, on pace for a 1500-plus yard season at age 36 with the Baltimore Ravens. Then, in an instant, Smith’s Achilles’ tendon ruptures mid-route, and his season ends in agony. That year, Smith was a fantasy WR1 posting 18.7 PPR fantasy points per game, an incredible feat for a player at a position that rewards speed, burst, and quickness.
How did Smith do it? Volume. In 2015 Joe Flacco and the Ravens threw 698 total passes (No. 3 in the NFL). Exceptional volume was required to re-establish the aging receiver whose fantasy point per target has declined each season since 2011. Continuing the trend, Smith’s 1.79 fantasy points per target was the lowest among top-12 fantasy receivers in 2015. The targets sustained him.
Fast-forwarding to the 2017 Ravens, the Maclin-Smith parallels are striking. Just as Smith once upon a time arrived in Baltimore after a washed out 745-yard season with Carolina in 2013, Maclin signed with the Ravens on the heels of a lost season with the Chiefs. Moving from a low-volume offense surrounded by explosive playmakers (most notably Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill) to a high-volume offense devoid of efficient, proven producers, was best –case scenario for Maclin this offseason.
Smith even recruited Maclin to Baltimore, imploring Maclin to take over his vacated volume flanker/Z role in the Raven’s pass-oriented offense. From Jerry Rice to Reggie Wayne, flankers historically specialize in short to intermediate routes: slants, drags, digs, and outs. A perfect fit.
— Steve Smith Sr (@89SteveSmith) June 8, 2017
The best NFL flankers command huge volume, and no team threw the ball more than the Ravens over the last two seasons. Only Baltimore averaged more than 700 pass attempts from 2015 through 2016 (705). Upon arrival, Maclin assumed a target hog role on a high-pass volume offense with copious vacated targets available. Between injuries, retirement and free agency, the Ravens lost receivers who accounted for 380 targets in 2016(!) 380 vacated targets is 84 more than the second team on the NFL’s vacated targets list: The Los Angeles Rams.
Most Vacated Targets from 2016 to 2017
Advanced Target Analysis via FantasyGuru.com
Fantasy Cold Fusion
Fantasy football WR1 seasons are forged when great volume collides with efficiency. In his last healthy season in Kansas City, Maclin posted 16.3 fantasy points per game, despite Alex Smith at the controls, by achieving top-20 efficiency across the board among qualified wide receivers in 2015. Recall that the season prior to Maclin’s arrival in Kansas City, Smith threw a grand total of zero touchdowns to wide receivers. Zero.
Jeremy Maclin’s 2015 Efficiency (16 games)
(Ranked #7 among NFL WRs)
Fantasy Points Per Target
Advanced Efficiency Metrics on PlayerProfiler.com
Maclin has a fantasy WR1 season on his NFL resumé. He logged 85 receptions for 1,318 receiving yards and ten touchdowns in his final season in Philadelphia. His 10 touchdowns matched his career-high posted in 2010. To summarize, Maclin’s resumé features two double-digit touchdowns seasons before age 27 before he went on to post an almost impossibly productive season while tethered to Smith. Wowza.
Maclin is #goodatfootball, and yet, is currently being drafted in [round 12 in 10 team leauges] on Yahoo Fantasy. Given this depressed ADP/acquisition cost, Maclin is currently the best-value wide receiver in fantasy football playing a featured role for the Ravens passing attack in 2017.