Torrey Smith: Why 49ers WR Will Have Biggest Turnaround in 2016


San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Torrey Smith experienced an inexplicably bad 2015 season. His 2016 season looks bright though, and there are many reasons to be optimistic about the receiver’s play this coming season.

During the 2015 offseason, the San Francisco 49ers signed free-agent wide receiver Torrey Smith to a five-year, $40 million dollar contract that included $22 million in guarantees.

Unfortunately, a big contract doesn’t always end with a big performance.

Smith caught a career-low 33 passes and four touchdowns. Smith did, however, have a career high of 20.1 yards per catch and showed flashes in a couple of games. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears, Smith caught long touchdown passes, including his game-winner in overtime at Chicago.

Outside of that one play, not many were memorable for Smith last year. So, what exactly went wrong?

It wasn’t Smith. We all know that.

Poor Coaching

It’s no secret that the 49ers had poor coaching last year, as evidenced by Jim Tomsula’s firing shortly after Week 17’s conclusion. The biggest problem with Tomsula’s staff may have been former offensive coordinator Geep Chryst.

Chryst was an OK quarterbacks coach under head coach Jim Harbaugh’s tenure, but he was also something short of spectacular. And to think, Chryst was placed in charge of San Francisco’s red-zone offense during 2014 and 2015, where the 49ers ranked 29th and 31st, respectively. Both years they were just over 43 percent.

Chryst has failed to produce offense everywhere he’s been, and it’s a good thing he’s out in San Francisco, so Smith can get back to his red-zone dominance of 2014, when he had 11 touchdowns.

Poor Offensive Line Play

With Smith being a deep-route receiver, his offensive line must hold up for the route to develop, something the 49ers were more than incapable of in 2015.

The 49ers finished the season with only 5,190 yards of offense (quarterback Peyton Manning had more than that by himself in 2013). Their quarterbacks were sacked 53 times, and their rushing totals were down from 2,000-plus during the Harbaugh era to just 1,544 total yards on 390 attempts.

Football starts and ends up front, and the 49ers were doomed, from start to finish, in 2015 because their O-line just wasn’t very good.

Poor Quarterback Play

How many quarterbacks in the NFL can play well without an offensive line? We know this, it’s only an elite group of players. My count is three — Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers.

So, imagine that! 49ers’ quarterbacks struggled last year, especially Colin Kaepernick. He needs a strong offensive line because he doesn’t read the field quickly enough.

In 2015, Kaepernick completed 144 of 244 passes (good for 59 percent) for 1,615 yards and six touchdown passes in eight games before being placed on injured reserve. Kaepernick constantly looked lost, and a lot of that had to do with his offensive line and coaches. But a lot of it was also him.

Blaine Gabbert was a little better (OK, a lot better) when he took over for Kap, but how could Smith perform if his quarterbacks either didn’t have time to find him or just plain failed to do so?

The answer is: They couldn’t!

What will be different about this year for Smith?

Jun 8, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly speaks to the media during minicamp at the San Francisco 49ers Practice Facility. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 8, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly speaks to the media during minicamp at the San Francisco 49ers Practice Facility. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

Chip Kelly and Offensive Coordinator Curtis Modkins Are not Geep Chryst

New 49ers’ head coach Chip Kelly and offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins both come from good offensive backgrounds. Modkins comes from the Detroit Lions, where he orchestrated a running attack that featured a running back, who some think is mediocre, in Joique Bell. Kelly, on the other hand, comes from Oregon and Philadelphia, where he designed a quick, uptempo spread offense.

Both coaches like to run the ball, first and foremost. This helps the passing game by setting up play-action passes that take advantage of deep routes, by giving them more time to develop.

This is Smith’s forte and should help him thrive. Also, Kelly has had success with mediocre receivers as well, like Riley Cooper, whom Kelly made look like a superstar with his spacing and play designs.

A Re-Tooled Offensive Line

Signing Smith to his five-year, $40 million deal was a good move by the Niners. But it cost them some talent on the offensive line, as Pro Bowler Mike Iupati left on a similar deal and headed to the Arizona Cardinals.

This year, however, the 49ers drafted Joshua Garnett and signed Zane Beadles to replace the losses of Iupati and Alex Boone. Last year’s starting line was pitiful, but this year’s may be better.

By comparison (from left to right):

  • Joe Staley
  • Alex Boone
  • Marcus Martin
  • Jordan Devey
  • Erik Pears


  • Joe Staley
  • Zane Beadles
  • Daniel Kilgore
  • Joshua Garnett
  • Trenton Brown

The second one looks much more promising and, with more time, creates more chances for Smith to make some plays.

A Newly Veteran Quarterback

With eight games as a starter in 2015, Gabbert saw the most action he’s seen since the 2012 season. He performed pretty well too for a quarterback with not much help around him.

Right now, Gabbert has a leg up on Kaepernick in the Niners’ QB competition, and he should be able to carry that momentum into training camp — where the real bullets fly and the real competition for the starting gig begins.

More from Niner Noise

Gabbert is able to read the field quickly and release the ball on time. Those are two things Kelly prefers in his quaterbacks. And, as’s Peter Panacy notes in his “10 Starters Who Might Not Make the 53-Man Roster in 2016,” it is quite possible that Kaepernick isn’t on the team by Week 1. Although, that is highly unlikely.

Oh, and by the way, let’s not forget that Smith is the 49ers true No. 1 receiver this year, and one of the only proven pass-catchers on the roster.

This should be interesting and, maybe, even fun for Smith.

Next: San Francisco 49ers: State of the Franchise for July 2016

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