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NFL Draft

Breaking Down Impact Of Jonnu Smith Signing With Patriots

  • The Draft Network
  • March 15, 2021
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The New England Patriots knew that they had to go into the 2021 campaign with more offensive weapons than they ended with last season. They’re off to a good start, making a splash to kick off the second hour of the legal tampering period by agreeing to a four-year, $50 million deal ($31.25 million guaranteed) with former Tennessee Titans tight end Jonnu Smith.

Smith, 25, set new career highs across the board in 2020, including targets (65), catches (41), receiving yards (448), and total touchdowns (9) while fully emerging from Delanie Walker’s shadow. Smith joins a Patriots team in desperate need of pass-catching talent.

New England has been highly successful in years past featuring a tight end-heavy approach in the passing game. That area of its offense has been nonexistent since Rob Gronkowski’s retirement after the 2018 season. Last season, the Patriots’ tight end depth chart featured Ryan Izzo—who caught 13 passes all season—and a pair of rookies who combined for five catches. Smith immediately steps in as the No. 1 tight end and possibly No. 1 pass-catching option period depending on the health of Julian Edelman.

Smith isn’t a great blocker, but that’s not what the Patriots are paying for. They’re looking to throw a higher volume of targets his way in the hopes they get an increased return on the player the Titans started to feature more prominently last season and one who’s continuing to grow. 

Smith has been a big-play threat in his young career who has shown a penchant for breaking tackles to create some of those impact moments. He’s averaged 11.7 yards per reception over the last two seasons and 6.8 yards after contact in his career, per PFF. Smith will be a go-to player for the recently re-signed Cam Newton and a down-the-road playmaker for a potential rookie quarterback should New England draft one in April.

The Patriots entered Monday with the most available cap space, per Spotrac, and were not afraid to throw around some cash to Smith and former Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Davon Godchaux in an effort to improve on their 7-9 season in 2020. Any other major moves—for a wide receiver, perhaps—remain to be seen.

Fantasy Football Impact

Smith finished as the TE9 in average fantasy points per game last season (10.7) and the TE13 in total points in PPR formats. He did all that despite being tied for only the 18th-most targets at the position (65). While it remains to be seen if Newton can be a better overall passer this season than he was in 2020, a more prominent role in the offense (i.e. more targets) can help make up for the drop from Ryan Tannehill to Newton. Consider Smith a fringe TE1 in redraft leagues.

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