Jonnu Smith Fantasy Football Outlook & Value

Over the past couple of days, I have written about some of my favorite sleeper tight end options – T.J. Hockenson, Ian Thomas, and Hayden Hurst. Jonnu Smith might be my favorite of the bunch, though. At 6’3″ and 248 pounds with a 4.62 40-yard dash time (88th percentile for tight ends), his measurables have always flown off the page. However, similar to Ian Thomas, he’s been stuck behind a longtime veteran tight end in Delanie Walker, who has out-snapped Smith each season since he was drafted in the third round by Tennessee. Walker was perhaps the Titans‘ best player over the past decade, but he’s now a free agent and is not expected to be back with the team. With the starting role wide open and plenty of targets up for grabs, could Jonnu Smith be a breakout candidate?

2019 Recap

RECREC YDSREC TDSFPTSFPPG
354393104.76.5

Jonnu Smith finished last season as the TE20 in PPR scoring. While his final statistics aren’t particularly impressive, he did finish with more fantasy points than any tight end who finished the year as the backup on their roster. Smith still finished the year with a 71% snap rate, as the Titans ran the 4th-most 2-tight end sets in the NFL. Smith impressed with his rate metrics – 12.2 yards per reception and a 79.5% catch rate – but has plenty of room for improvement in his volume stats.

2020 Projections

RECREC YDSREC TDSFPTSFPPG
56.1684.34163.210.2

I mentioned that Smith was one of my favorite breakout candidates at tight end for this season, and now you can see why. Outside of A.J. Brown, there aren’t any receivers on the Titans’ roster who are going to demand a massive target share. Last season the team’s tight ends finished with about a 24% target share – I have Smith pretty comfortably reaching the 16% range at a minimum. Smith is also going to be involved in the run game – he rushed 4 times for 78 yards last season – and that could add some extra fantasy value. These numbers made Smith the TE9 in my ranking, although he’s within just a few points of the guys I have him ranked behind in Darren Waller and Hunter Henry.

ADP/Auction Value

ADP: 149.6, TE21

Auction Value: $2

I feel like I’m starting to sound like a broken record. There seems to be a wide misrepresentation of tight end value among current ADP statistics, and it will be to the benefit of fantasy owners who wait to draft their tight end. Landing Smith in the 14th or 15th round would be pretty absurd with my top-ten valuation, and I would be thrilled to combine him with another of my sleeper TE candidates late in the draft.

Floor

Jonnu Smith had never finished with more than 35 receptions or 500 receiving yards in a season, even last year, when he surpassed a 71% snap rate. Still, even as a part-time starter last season, he was able to finish as a top-20 tight end. Smith’s ADP at the TE21 is pretty much his absolute floor, as he would only need to come up with about 35 catches for 500 yards and a few touchdowns to beat that. After Ryan Tannehill took over as the starting quarterback for the Titans last season, Smith’s stats boosted up to 2.7 catches for 31.8 yards and 0.3 touchdowns per game. Those numbers extrapolated to a full 16-game slate would have given him about 43 receptions for 510 yards and five touchdowns. Those numbers would have made him the TE13 last season, and I have a hard time seeing how he finishes outside the top-20 this season.

Ceiling

I’ll be honest- my initial Jonnu Smith ranking based on my season-long projections almost made me spit out my water. I originally had him down for 87 targets, which led to 65 receptions for 815 yards. I also had him down for five touchdowns. Those numbers made him the TE7 in my rankings and almost entering the tier of Evan Engram, Mark Andrews, Tyler Higbee, and Zach Ertz. After some research, I deflated the statistics of pretty much all Titans receivers. Tennessee ranked last in the NFL last season in passing attempts per game, and that isn’t expected to change much with the team committed to feeding Derrick Henry the ball as much as possible. That ceiling still exists for Smith, though, and I can see a scenario where he finishes as a top-8 tight end this season.

Tennessee Titans Offense

The loss of former starting right tackle Jack Conklin is a massive storyline for the Titans this season. He was one of the best run-blocking tackles in football last season and will be replaced by Dennis Kelly, who has only started 16 games since joining the Titans four years ago. That will likely lead to the team running even more 2-tight end personnel this year as they look to mitigate the decreased run-blocking ability. In twelve games as the starting quarterback last season, Ryan Tannehill led the team to an 8-4 record with 25.3 points per game. That was a massive improvement from the offense with Marcus Mariota at QB – they scored 16.3 points per game with Mariota. A.J. Brown had a stellar rookie season, coming through with 52 receptions for 1,051 yards and eight touchdowns despite starting just ten games. Corey Davis has never lived up to his billing as the former 4th overall pick in the 2017 draft. Adam Humphries is the only other relevant receiver on the team. Derrick Henry had over 300 carries last year and led the league in rushing yards, but he only saw 24 targets and isn’t expected to be a factor in the passing game. Despite the Titans not having a high passing volume, the lack of production from the receiving corps outside of A.J. Brown and the running back room should leave plenty of targets for Jonnu Smith.

Strength of Schedule

The AFC South didn’t have any team rank inside the top-12 of fantasy points allowed to tight ends – Jonnu Smith will have plenty of opportunities in matchups against the Jaguars (13th), Colts (17th), and Texans (22nd). The Titans also play against the AFC North, which houses three top-12 defenses against tight ends last season in the Ravens (1st), Steelers (11th), and Bengals (12th). The Browns round out that division – the 23rd-best defense in fantasy points allowed to TEs. Meanwhile, the NFC North, also on the Titans’ docket, holds three defenses which ranked outside the top-12 in this regard last year in the Lions (15th), Packers (18th), and Bears (24th). The Vikings were top-ten (7th) and had an elite safety duo. Rounding out the Tennessee schedule are the Bills, one of the best secondaries in the league and the 2nd-best fantasy tight end defense from last year, and the Broncos, the 21st-best defense in this regard. The Titans do have some difficult matchups on the slate but enough soft matchups to balance it out.

Bottom Line

Jonnu Smith hasn’t produced significant numbers to this point in his career, but there’s reason to believe he could be set for a breakout in his fourth professional season. The Titans don’t have a pass-heavy offense, but they also only have one player who should demand a massive target share – A.J. Brown. There’s no reason Smith can’t be the second-leading target on the team as he lines up all over the field, and he has plenty of athletic upsides to bolster his potential fantasy value. He’s one of my favorite late-round targets at his position.

2020 Fantasy Football Player Outlooks
  
There are few things I love more in this world than the sweet glory of fantasy football. It's a year round sport and championships are won and lost well before the draft. When I was 15 I put together my first fantasy league and I was hooked for life.

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