We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2021 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.
NFL free agency always hits a certain type of way every offseason. Occasionally there are a few truly high-end talents out there (see: Brady, Tom), but generally we don’t see anyone good enough to shift the power balance of the league ever hit the open market. History tells us that we’re better off keeping fantasy football expectations in check when a veteran changes to a new team regardless of position.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. The Patriots are hoping so at least, as they made two of the offseason’s biggest moves by scooping the top two tight ends available in Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. The former Titans and Chargers talents don’t go about playing the position in the exact same manner, but each has proven to be critically effective in their respective roles.
What follows is a breakdown on what Smith and Henry bring to the Patriots offense as well as what we should expect from them as fantasy assets in 2021.
Jonnu Smith was an explosive playmaker with the Titans
Haters will point to the fact that Smith has never reached 50 receptions or 500 yards in a season as an indictment on his ability to be an every-down tight end. You, a smart and dignified scholar, will know that he was largely held back by the constant use of multiple tight ends and the general lack of passing success before the Ryan Tannehill era began halfway through the 2019 season.
Also, production is relative. Smith has caught 84 passes for 955 yards and scored 13 total TDs over the past two seasons, while Patriots TEs have totaled 55 catches for 673 yards and just three receiving scores. Sheesh.
Coach BIll Belichick didn’t exactly hide his adoration of Smith when asked about the ex-Titans TE in the past:
“He’s just a really good tight end. Can do a lot of things. Blocks well. Runs well. Is a good receiver. Played him at tailback, he looked pretty good back there. He’s a very athletic player. Hard to tackle. Catches the ball well. (He’s) great after the catch, probably the best in the league. I mean, I can’t imagine anyone better than him after the catch.”
Smith doesn’t always go about picking up yards like your normal player at the position. At 6-foot-3 and 248 pounds with 4.62 jets, Smith is a freak among freaks at the NFL level. He’s performed just fine in most efficiency metrics, grading out as PFF’s 20th-best TE in receiving grade and ranking 27th in yards per route run among 83 players at the position with at least 50 targets since 2017.
Still, it’s Smith’s ability with the ball in his hands that should land him inside of anyone’s top three TEs when it comes to YAC ability. Overall, only George Kittle (7.8) has averaged more yards after the catch per reception than Smith (7.1) among all tight ends with at least 50 receptions since 2010. Somehow, this dude doesn’t turn 26 until August.
Give Jonnu Smith the football and good things happen pic.twitter.com/LmBbPvgUvX
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) March 11, 2021
It looked like Smith might just ascend to the very top of the position to start 2020, as he ripped off lines of 4 receptions-36 yards-1 TD, 4-84-2, 5-61-0 and 5-40-2 in his first four games last season. Unfortunately, he suffered quad and ankle injuries prior to Week 6 and struggled to maintain the same sort of domination throughout the remainder of the year.
Credit to Smith for finishing 2020 as PFF’s 45th-highest-graded run blocker among 88 qualified players at the position; I have a hard time believing they just gave the man $50 million to only line up and block.
Of course, Smith’s new brother of destruction is far from a one-trick pony himself.
Hunter Henry is one of the league’s better all-around tight ends