The first big fantasy football domino of the legal tampering period fell at about 10 AM Pacific on Monday. Jonnu Smith, formerly of the Tennessee Titans, agreed to a deal with the New England Patriots. What does this mean for Jonnu Smith, fantasy football, the Patriots, and the Tennessee Titans’ passing game in 2021?
Well, first and foremost, let’s dispel the notion that the Patriots just love passing to the tight end. They love passing to their best players, which if you have Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, will be the tight ends. Since Gronk played his last snap for the Patriots back in 2018, the 2019 and 2020 seasons have been nightmares for the TE position. The Patriots ranked dead last with 53 targets to TEs in 2019 and 33 targets to TEs in 2020. The 2.7 targets per game to the position over the last two years ranks dead last by a wide margin. The Jets, who rank second-worst, throw the ball a full extra time per game to the TE over the last couple of years… and nobody is excited about any tight end there.
The money is interesting, as 4-years, $50 million is the biggest pass-catcher contract the Patriots have ever given to a free agent. But then again, then never sign pass-catcher free agents. I really only had to check Randy Moss on that one (who made just about $25 million for four seasons with the Patriots). But, the Pats went out and lit all their cap on fire today, signing a pile of free agents in day one. But what about Jonnu Smith?
Jonnu Smith is fine. If you check my Twitter account, you can see a lot of people yelling at me for saying that he’s fine. He has a lot of highlights, and a lot of potential, but he will be 26 and is yet to cash in any of that potential on an overall or a per-target basis in his career. As it stands, in 2020, he was outside the top-ten in catch rate, and yards per reception. He’s not a very efficient tight end. He’s flashy, and he’s athletic, but he just doesn’t bring it play-to-play in a way that I feel very excited about.
There’s also that his opportunity has been capped in Tennessee… by Anthony Firkser. Firkser had 80% of Jonnu’s targets in 2020 and was nearly as efficient with them as Smith. Granted, Smith was more of a red zone monster, but I think that is where people are getting into trouble with Jonnu.
Jonnu Smith had 8 receiving touchdowns last season. Cam Newton had 8 passing touchdowns last season. Some people want to point to his bout with COVID as a reason for the issues, but Cam didn’t throw for multiple touchdowns in any of his pre-COVID games, either. Jimmy Garoppolo played in seven games last season and threw for multiple touchdowns three times, for reference. It took Cam until week seventeen against the #2 overall pick New York Jets to turn in a multiple passing touchdown performance.
And there lies the rub. Jonnu Smith went from a rush-heavy offensive attack in Tennessee to a… rush heavy offensive attack in New England. The Patriots threw the ball 27.5 times per game last year, 2.5 fewer times per game than the Titans. Now, New England had no offensive weaponry worth their salt last year. That’s why guys like Damiere Byrd and Jakobi Meyers ended up in our collective psyche.
But you can’t assume the Patriots are going to stand pat with Jonnu. In fact, early reports are the Patriots aren’t done amassing talent, and are narrowing in on adding a wide receiver today. Given that it’s a first-round of free agency-type spend, the best-case scenario is that it’s A.J. Green (old, washed). Worst case… Kenny Golladay.
All-in-all, I think that Jonnu Smith has a chance to end up as a top-ten tight end next year. He’s been good enough and as we saw with Robert Tonyan and Logan Thomas last year, all you need is targets. Unfortunately, that puts him square in the middle of the tight end middle class… a meaningless distinction. If he comes off the board outside the top-twelve at tight end, I’m all in. If he’s inside the top-ten, you guys have fun. I won’t be drafting anyone inside the top-ten at tight end this year. That is, unless I am guaranteed one of the big three (Kelce/Kittle/Waller).
As for the Titans… I really like A.J. Brown now. Corey Davis is likely gone, and Jonnu is definitely gone. We could see what the people clamor for all day every day: A.J. Brown on 9+ targets per game. That would launch him into the WR1 discussion and would mean great things for him. As for Ryan Tannehill… I’m iffy on him for 2021 now. Jonnu Smith accounted for 8 of his 33 touchdown passes last season. Granted, it’s likely Tennessee adds someone, but would anyone be surprised if Derrick Henry just took all those targets as rushes and ended 2021 with 22 touchdowns? I wouldn’t. The Titans’ passing game is officially up in the air with this signing, and I am holding out judgment on where it could land until things shake out a little bit more.
For more Football Absurdity, check out the links below:
Image Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/09/Jonnu_Smith.png under CC BY-SA 2.0]