Finding a 16-game starter at tight end is not an easy thing to do in fantasy football. Guys like Travis Kelce and George Kittle are guaranteed to give top production, but they’re probably off the board midway through the third round. It’s hard to pass on an early running back or receiver, so several fantasy football players try to find a late-round tight end as their diamond in the rough. After three seasons in the league, could Tennessee Titans tight end Jonnu Smith be 2020’s draft steal.
2020 Fantasy Football Profile: Jonnu Smith
The Tennessee Titans were one of the biggest surprises of the 2019 season, especially down the stretch. Once Ryan Tannehill took over for Marcus Mariota, the Titans turned into one of the best offenses in football. Derrick Henry destroyed teams on the ground while Tannehill quietly turned into one of the most efficient passers in the NFL. This ultimately culminated in a 9-7 season with an unexpected appearance in the AFC Championship Game.
Despite the team success, Jonnu Smith didn’t do that much for fantasy. Smith ended the year as the TE20 in PPR formats with just 35 receptions for 439 yards and three touchdowns. While his role increased with Tannehill, he still wasn’t great. From Week 7 onward, Smith was on a 16-game pace for 46 receptions, 547 receiving yards, and five touchdowns.
Smith entered the season behind Delanie Walker on the depth chart, but that isn’t the reason for his underwhelming fantasy numbers. Walker missed the vast majority of the season with an injury, leaving Smith atop the depth chart. Smith played in 70.81% of the offensive snaps, so he should have had every opportunity to carve out a role in the passing game.
The Titans were a run-first team, which may explain some of Smith’s overall shortcomings. However, the advanced metrics don’t paint a prettier picture. According to Player Profiler, Smith ranked 11th among tight ends in yards per route run. This is a solid finish, but it’s not good enough to suggest a massive breakthrough season is on the horizon. The only stat that truly stands out is his 9.8 yards per target, which ranked second-best among tight ends. However, all of his other advanced numbers are nothing more than slightly above average.
Jonnu Smith enters 2020 in essentially the same role he had in 2019. While Delaine Walker is out of the way, just about everything else is exactly the same. Ryan Tannehill is still the quarterback, A.J. Brown is still the star, and Adam Humphries and Corey Davis are still there to steal targets.
As previously mentioned, Smith wasn’t exactly a target machine even with Tannehill under center. Considering all of the same weapons are back from a season ago, it’s hard to project a massive increase in targets. This is a team that wants to run the ball, and that offensive philosophy will limit his ceiling. Additionally, the Titans are due for an extreme amount of regression.
Last year, Ryan Tannehill played like one of the best quarterbacks in the league by just about every measure. Pro Football Focus had him tied as the third-best quarterback in football, and he ended the year ranked 5th in DVOA and 9th in QBR. Derrick Henry gets most of the credit, but Tannehill’s efficiency was the reason for the offensive success. Tannehill will probably regress to his career norm in 2020, which means fewer scoring opportunities and shorter drives for Smith. This is obviously a bad thing and will probably cancel out any increased target opportunities.
Anyone betting on Jonnu Smith breaking out is doing it because of his athletic potential. As shown on his MockDraftable page, Smith is an all-around athletic freak. He tested at or above the 80th percentile in the 60-yard shuttle, 20-yard shuttle, broad jump, vertical jump, and the 40-yard dash. Smith has flashed this athleticism at the NFL level and definitely has the raw athleticism needed to post a breakout campaign.
Jonnu Smith Average Draft Position
As of this posting, Fantasy Football Calculator has Jonnu Smith going off the board with the 170th pick in PPR drafts. This makes him essentially free and right in the same neighborhood as guys like Dallas Goedert, Mike Gesicki, and Blake Jarwin.
Smith has the raw potential to post a breakout season, but the odds just aren’t in his favor. Even with Tannehill playing at a high level last year, Smith wasn’t on pace to do anything special for fantasy. All of the same weapons are back, so it’s hard to project Smith seeing a massive increase in targets.
This isn’t going to be a high-volume passing attack, and Tannehill’s inevitable regression is only going to make life harder for Smith. Honestly, you’re better off taking Jarwin or Gesicki as your late-round flier at tight end, as both players have a better chance of breaking out in the upcoming season.
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