Fantasy News & Analysis

Fantasy Fallout: Jonnu Smith signs with New England Patriots

Nov 12, 2020; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Titans tight end Jonnu Smith (81) points to the sky after scoring a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts during the first half at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Free agent tight end Jonnu Smith has agreed to a four-year, $50 million contract with the New England Patriots, according to Adam Schefter. The move is big for both Smith’s fantasy football potential and for the Patriots heading into the 2021 NFL season. 

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Smith was limited to just over four targets per game because of Tennessee’s run-first offense and other receiving options. Both the Patriots and recently re-signed Cam Newton have long histories of targeting tight ends, though they didn’t have a quality TE to throw to last year. 

Smith is a top-tier tight end

Smith has been excellent with the ball in his hands but hasn’t gotten the target necessary for consistent fantasy success.

The 6-foot-3, 248-pounder finished the 2020 season with a mark of 3.26 fantasy points per touch, ranking second among tight ends with at least 60 targets behind only former Patriot Rob Gronkowski. Smith’s greatness came from his ability to make plays after the catch. His 6.8 yards after the catch per reception over the last two seasons ranks third among tight ends.

Smith finished as TE16 last season despite only missing one game, and that’s almost entirely because of his low target share. Smith averaged 4.2 targets per game, ranking 20th among tight ends. It is nearly impossible to be a starting fantasy tight end with so few targets per game.

Smith will see more Targets

Patriots tight ends saw only 31 targets last year, the fewest in the league. That’s largely because of the lack of talent at the position — New England targeted TEs the second-most in the NFL over the previous nine years. Newton frequently targeted tight end Greg Olsen and others in Carolina, where the team ranked in the top 10 targeting TEs over that span.

Smith’s low target share in Tennessee was also impacted by Anthony Firkser mixing in on third downs, plus other tight ends playing in run situations. Smith is likely to have an every-down role with the Patriots, which means more playing time and opportunities for targets.

Nov 8, 2020; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Titans tight end Jonnu Smith (81) makes a catch and scores past Chicago Bears cornerback Buster Skrine (24) during the second half at Nissan Stadium. Credit: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

It wouldn’t be surprising for Smith to rank in the top 10 in TE targets in 2021. The combination of targets, skill and the state of tight ends should make Smith a top-eight fantasy tight end with the potential to finish in the top five. I'm bumping Smith to sixth in my TE PPR rankings and Firkser to 21st.

Impact on the Titans

The Titans had six players with 30 or more targets last season. They cut Adam Humphries, and Smith is the second person on that list no longer with the team. Corey Davis is a free agent who is unlikely to re-sign, leaving plenty of opportunities for targets elsewhere.

Unless the Titans make a splash in the draft or free agency, this should primarily help A.J. Brown’s fantasy value, allowing him to increase his targets per game by one or two.

Firkser is slated to become the Titans' primary receiving tight end in 2021. He played 100% of Tennessee’s offensive snaps in 11 personnel during the one game Smith missed in season. The Titans could bring in another receiving tight end, which would destroy Firkser’s fantasy value. If not, the fifth-year TE makes for an interesting late-round flier. Firkser finished with 1.67 yards per route run, seventh best among tight ends.

Firkser can put up better fantasy numbers than Smith did last year if he doesn’t have any competition for the receiving snaps at tight end. And the Titans could target tight ends more without Davis.

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