Jonnu Smith Finds Uncertain Fantasy Fit with Patriots In Free Agency
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images. Pictured: Jonnu Smith
- What does Jonnu Smith to the Patriots mean for his fantasy football outlook in 2021?
- TL;DR -- His outlook is uncertain in New England. Our analysts break it down in detail below.
Jonnu Smith is the first splashy acquisition of the 2021 NFL free agency period.
The former Titans’ tight end reportedly has agreed to a four-year deal with the Patriots worth $50 million, immediately becoming their top pass-catcher. But what does joining the Patriots mean for his fantasy value? And what are the dominoes for players in New England and Tennessee?
Our fantasy football rankers weigh in.
Sean Koerner: It’s a tricky landing spot because he’s going to a low-volume pass offense (assuming Cam starts Week 1), but Smith could also see a massive target share given the Patriots’ lack of talent at wide receiver and tight end.
I’m guessing Smith will be a top-10 fantasy TE, but a lot hinges on if the Pats end up acquiring another quarterback to start Week 1 over Newton.
Remaining Titans TE Anthony Firkser is a sneaky TE2 in best ball drafts now.
Matthew Freedman: As Sean mentions, the landing spot for Smith is somewhat uncertain. He could enjoy a lot of target volume in a wide receiver-deficient offense … or maybe not, and maybe the quality of his targets will disappoint.
What certainly disappoints — at least from a dynasty perspective — is the future (or lack thereof) that Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene now have with the Patriots. Just last year, both were selected with top-100 picks in the draft, but neither one managed to make a fantasy impression, and now any hopes that either one had for developing into a steady contributor in his second season have been soundly dashed.
On the plus side, at least Cam Newton now has a solidly above-average tight end to target in the offense. Smith’s signing should give Newton a small but certain boost in upside.
Chris Raybon: Smith landing in New England is about as exciting as a calendar full of Zoom meetings.
Don’t get me wrong, the man’s receiving chops are better than most at his position: Among 49 tight ends with at least 25 targets last season, Smith ranked eighth in Pro Football Focus receiving grade, ninth in yards after catch per reception (5.8), and 18th in yards per route run (1.49). His eight touchdown catches were tied for fourth-most at the position, and he also posted career-best marks in targets (65), catches (41), and yards (448).
But from a fantasy perspective, it’s concerning that Smith is going to an offense on which tight ends went to die last season, combining for only 32 targets and 19 catches all year. Heck, this is an offense where the forward pass went to die, as New England’s 440 pass attempts were the NFL’s second-fewest and its 12 touchdown passes were tied for the fewest.
Volume and role was always the concern with Smith in Tennessee: He spent 57.6% of his snaps blocking, ran more than half of his routes from an inline position, and was targeted just 6.3 yards downfield on average — the sixth-lowest among 49 qualified tight ends. The Patriots almost certainly paid up for him because they like what he can do as a blocker as well as a receiver, which I’m concerned may cap his upside.
Smith was able to post top-10 value in standard (TE9) and half-PPR (TE10) thanks to his eight TD catches, but he managed just a TE16 finish in PPR. There’s some volume upside given that Julian Edelman always seems a hit away from a season-ending injury and there’s not much else to speak of on the roster, but the floor is also low for a TD-dependent player going from a team with 33 TD passes to a team with 12 TD passes.
Especially with more dominos yet to fall at TE, this signing doesn’t move Smith above upside-TE2 territory for me, and that won’t change for as long as New England’s QB depth chart consists of nothing more than Cam Newton and a prayer.