Fantasy Football Debate: DeVonta Smith vs. Tee Higgins
The Case for DeVonta Smith
Brendan: The case for DeVonta Smith over Tee Higgins is pretty simple, despite Philadelphia basically not throwing in the second half, Smith outperformed Higgins by a lot and is barely being drafted ahead of Higgins.
Okay, okay. I should probably expand upon that. The Eagles took a huge step forward on offense last year as Jalen Hurts turned into one of the best quarterbacks in the league and A.J. Brown fit in perfectly. Brown’s presence also opened things up for Smith and Dallas Goedert. However, because the Eagles were so good offensively and defensively, they rarely needed to throw in the second half. Now in 2023, a few defensive starters are gone and the schedule gets more difficult.
So while Shane Steichen is gone, we could see even more passing attempts from the Eagles this year. That’s music to any Smith drafter's ears—especially in full PPR leagues. Smith had an outrageously good 2.2 yards per route run (per SportsInfoSolutions) in 2022, good for 10th in the league. While his aDOT was lower after the catch he was able to finish top-10 in broken tackles + missed tackles per reception at 14.7%. Adding to his elite numbers, he’s the No. 2 receiver in expected points added per target. He’s an absolutely elite receiver on a per-route basis in one of the best offenses in the league.
Both Smith and Higgins are the No. 2 receivers on elite offenses with elite quarterbacks and are paired with elite receiver teammates. There’s really no way to go wrong here, but I genuinely believe Smith is the better pick straight-up against Higgins. When you’re on the clock you’re going to have to decide between these two. Smith’s ADP is slightly higher (21.9) vs. Higgins's (24.3), and deservedly so. In our rankings here on 4for4, Smith is ahead as well. All-in-all, when on the clock, Smith is the pick.
The Case for Tee Higgins
Matthew: DeVonta Smith’s 2022 season was a tale of two halves. In Weeks 1-10, Smith averaged 12.2 PPR points per game, making him the WR25. From Week 11 on, Smith was the WR5 overall, averaging 18.7 points per game.
Smith’s second-half breakout coincided with prolonged absences from Dallas Goedert and Jalen Hurts. Goedert missed Weeks 11-15, consolidating targets between the Eagles' two star wide receivers, with Smith seeing 8-9 targets in each of the five games Goedert missed.
When Goedert returned in Week 16, it was Gardner Minshew under center, with the Eagles relying on a more pass-heavy offense. Minshew attempted 62 passes in two games, including 40 in Week 16 (the most attempts by an Eagles quarterback last season), throwing for a combined 629 yards, and allowing for Smith to continue to post elite numbers despite the Goedert’s return. In Minshew’s two starts, Smith saw 12 and 13 targets (both season-highs), turning them into 17 receptions for 228 yards.
With a healthy Goedert, the addition of a dynamic, pass-catching back in D'Andre Swift (156 receptions in 40 career games), and an expected return to one of the league’s most run-heavy offenses, DeVonta Smith is dealing with more uncertainty than one would expect for a wide receiver with a Yahoo! ADP in the late second round.
The wide receiver whose ADP mirrors Smith’s comes into 2023 with fewer question marks about his role and projected volume.
Tee Higgins is the locked-in second option in a Bengals offense that is amongst the league’s most pass-heavy. Cincinnati attempted 601 passes in 2022 with a passing rate of 62.3%, good for fifth in the NFL, the mirror opposite of Philadelphia whose 50.3% pass rate only exceeded Baltimore, Atlanta, and Chicago. The Bengals' offense will feature enough passing volume to give both Higgins and Ja'Marr Chase high floors and massive weekly ceilings.
Despite the presence of superstar Ja'Marr Chase, Higgins was able to see at least seven targets in 10 of his 12 healthy games. With Tyler Boyd taking on less of a prominent role, including seeing only a combined seven targets in three playoff games last season, and with no other significant threat for targets, Higgins should continue to see elite usage in 2023.
The Bengals did not add anyone of significance to their backfield in a deep free agent and running back draft class, opting instead to bring back Joe Mixon for his age 27 season. This combined with their biggest free agent receiving signing being Irv Smith Jr. and his 858 career receiving yards (37 games), it is clear Cincinnati’s offense will be running through their Chase and Higgins.
Best ball enthusiasts are known for obsessing over Week 17 matchups in an attempt to load up on players whose Week 17 contests are expected to shoot out. While identifying the highest-scoring Week 17 matchups are critical to take down a massive best ball tournament, don’t overlook the fact that a nice fantasy playoff schedule has value in traditional leagues.
And no one has a more enticing fantasy playoff schedule than the Bengals.
Cincinnati gets Minnesota at home in Week 15, travels to Pittsburgh in Week 16, and concludes with a potential “game of the year” at Kansas City during fantasy championship week. If you made it to your league’s championship week, you are going to want as much exposure to that game as you can have, and taking Tee Higgins at the 2/3 turn is a great piece to have for your championship run.