The 49ers invested heavily in wide receiver Torrey Smith for 2015, bringing the speedy, deep-threat receiver in after his four seasons in Baltimore.
Yet the Niners never really tapped into Smith’s talent.
Only 62 passes were thrown in his direction after he was targeted 92 times in 2014, 137 in 2013 and 110 in 2012. He had a career-low 33 catches after pulling in 49 to 65 each of his first four years. And he tied his career low in touchdown catches with four after catching 11 in 2014.
A lot contributed to Smith’s bad numbers, of course: the quarterback position and offensive line was shaky and the system under one-and-done head coach Jim Tomsula didn’t play to Smith’s strengths.
But now there’s reason to believe Smith might be much more of an impact player in 2016.
Former NFL wide receiver Nate Burleson, now an NFL Network analyst, says he sees the spread offense of new head coach Chip Kelly being a boon to Smith. Burleson singled out Smith and running back Carlos Hyde as being perfect pieces for Kelly’s offense once they get into its rhythm because of their burst.
“Those are both speed guys, very explosive individuals,” Burleson told a writer from the 49ers website. “When you’re looking at an offense that’s so intricate in the way it needs to be defended, that gives receivers like Smith and playmakers like Hyde the ability to run routes against coverages that are beneficial to route runners.”
Burleson pointed out that Kelly’s multiple misdirection plays can causes just slim moments of hesitation by linebackers and defensive backs that can allow a quick receiver such as Smith to get separation.
For his part, Smith has taken responsibility for his own performance and not blamed others, or the situation. He’s called his year “horrible.”
“It starts with looking at myself in the mirror and asking, ‘Did I make the most out of every opportunity?’ ” he told a Bay Area reporter in January. “And the answer to that is, ‘No.’ ”
But, he’s eager for the new challenge with Kelly’s offense, that will reward players in top condition, able to quickly go from one play to the next in a constant, hurry-up mode.
Tweeted Smith when Kelly was hired: “Guess I might have to start running right now to get in shape.”