The tight end position has been deeper than usual over the past few seasons, and one of the better options has a new team. Former Tennessee Titans tight end Jonnu Smith has emerged in the past few seasons as a regular fantasy football contributor and now takes his game to the New England Patriots.
In 2018 and ’19, Smith played a larger role off of the bench when starter Delanie Walker was injured (missed 24 of 32 games). The valuable experience helped Smith take over as Tennessee’s top guy at his position in 2020 and post a career highs in receptions (41), yards (448) and touchdowns (8) in 15 games played.
Smith turns 26 in August and enters a semi-rebuilding phase with New England. Quarterback Cam Newton returns as the presumed QB1 of this offense, a system that has been favorable for tight ends in past seasons. It’s not an easy one to learn, though, so the heady Smith will be hitting the books to get up to speed. Known for his love of X’s and O’s, the Florida International product has a prime opportunity to excel in an offense yearning for playmakers.
In two years without Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots have not generated more than 200 yards out of any one tight end of the duration of a season. Newton found success with the position in Carolina, but blocking will be a major factor in Smith’s role — an area where he plays better than his 6-foot-3, 248-pound frame suggests.
Injuries are a slightly elevated concern after he missed time in three of his four pro seasons.
Fantasy football takeaway
New England has made moves to improve its offensive line on the edge and still has to address the expected loss of guard Joe Thuney. Center also needs attention. The offense has a capable rushing attack and will rely heavily on controlling the clock with the ground game.
Translation: Play-action passing success. Smith is athletic and has a downfield presence the team found great success targeting with Gronk. Block-and-release, tight end screens, and vertical seam routes should be staples in Smith’s role.
UPDATE (3/16): In a surprise move, the Patriots also signed tight end Hunter Henry a day after adding Smith. This will hurt Smith’s upside, but the two can coexist and even thrive. Their respective skill sets differ a fair amount, yet both can be flexed out wide and into the slot. Henry is more likely to be the traditional “Y” tight end, playing as an extension of the offensive live more often than not.
The former Titan is a low-end starter in fantasy football for the 2021 season, and he’s likely to come off the board after the midpoint of drafts. The addition of Henry makes him less appealing, and there will be weeks in which each player cancels out one another. Don’t get overly excited about adding Smith, but his vertical nature means he can salvage value even with a shared role.