Fantasy Reaction: Jonnu Smith Signs with the Patriots

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One of the first fantasy dominos to fall in free agency was at TE, with former Tennessee Titan Jonnu Smith signing a four-year, $50 million deal with the New England Patriots. This deal now makes Smith the 3rd highest paid TE in terms of average annual value ($12.5 million) behind only George Kittle and Travis Kelce.

Smith has been well-loved by fantasy managers for about three seasons but never lived up to the hype in Tennessee. Let’s break down what this move means for his fantasy prospects, in both redraft and dynasty leagues.

Hype, Hype, Hype

To this point in his career, the hype is just about the only consistent factor surrounding Smith in fantasy football. He’s been in the league for four years, he’s played in 60 games, starting 53,  but his numbers are pedestrian, at best. He’s never averaged more than eight fantasy points-per-game in any season and averages just five points-per-game over his career. His 16 career TDs equates to him scoring once every four games. Nothing about it is very appetizing. In 2020, he was targetted 65 times, finishing with a 41/448/8 stat line (he also added a rushing TD). He finished as the TE10 in fantasy but was a full 106 points behind the TE2, Darren Waller.

Fantasy managers want to love Smith because he is an athletic freak and the hope was that he would go to an offense where he’d see more passing volume. It seems unlikely that will happen in New England, at least with Cam Newton at QB. Last year, the Titans averaged 30 passes-per-game. New England averaged just 28. Before Cam Newton missed time with COVID-19, the Patriots were throwing at a slightly higher clip, to the tune of about 30 passes-per-game. Basically, unless New England plans on overhauling their entire scheme in 2021, the best-case scenario might be the same amount of available targets that we saw in Tennessee last season. However, Smith won’t be fighting A.J. Brown and Corey Davis for those looks.

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Does New England Still Love TEs?

The other concern for Smith’s volume is the TE utilization, or lack thereof, that we’ve seen from the Patriots in the last two seasons since Rob Gronkowski left the team. The writing appeared to be on the wall even before Gronk walked away.

Year Total Targets for
Patriots TEs
2017 182
2018 81
2019 52
2020 34

The numbers have dropped every year for the last four seasons and hit rock-bottom in 2020. Patriots TEs as a whole didn’t see more than three targets-per-game last season. Smith was targetted just over four time-per-game last season, so something will have to give for him to live up to fantasy managers’ expectations. Now, Bill Belichick is no dummy, and they are going to use the man they just made the 3rd highest-paid TE, but it seems unlikely that he approaches the Gronk-ian numbers of days past. While Smith may be better than the Patriots have had over the last two seasons, he is nowhere near Gronk’s level. Smith should be able to pull his customary five targets-per-game, but expecting more than that is setting yourself up for disappointment.

Dynasty Value: 2021 & Beyond

This season is likely to be more of the same for Smith. His redraft prospects are as a backend TE1 with not much upside. Dynasty owners will need to pay attention to how the Patriots attack the draft. With Cam Newton at the helm, the Patriots are a run-first team and there won’t be a big enough piece of the pie to keep Jonnu fed. If New England were to add a young QB in the draft to take over for Cam next season, that could change very quickly. This same Patriots coaching staff, with Josh McDaniels at OC, has shown the willingness to throw the ball 600 times per year when Tom Brady was at QB. The next Tom Brady might not be in this draft but there are plenty of QBs with superior arm talent to Newton. Jonnu will be just 26 years old when this season kicks off and this contract takes him to age 30. With the right QB, there is plenty of time for him to realize his top-5 fantasy potential. Be sure to check out where The Fantasy Footballers have Jonnu ranked in the new UDK+Dynasty Pass.

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