NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - DECEMBER 20: Jonnu Smith #81 of the Tennessee Titans is tackled by the Detroit Lions at Nissan Stadium on December 20, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee.
(Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

Jonnu Smith would have the potential to break out in a New York Jets offense that would feature him heavily and maximize his YAC ability.

Positives

After-the-catch ability

Standing at six-foot-three and 248 pounds while running a 4.62 forty (83rd percentile at TE) and posting a 38-inch vertical jump (93rd percentile) in addition to a 127-inch broad jump (95th percentile), Smith is the complete package as an athlete and has used those tools to become a great after-the-catch producer.

Smith averaged 5.8 yards after catch per reception in 2020 (via Pro Football Focus), ranking fifth-best among the 34 tight ends with at least 40 targets. That mark wasn’t even the norm for Smith – his career average is almost a full yard higher at 6.7. Smith ranked second among qualifiers at the position with 8.1 yards after catch per reception in 2019.

Most impressively, Smith’s after-the-catch production is not merely a product of being placed in favorable situations. He creates more than what is presented to him. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Smith averaged 1.4 more yards after catch versus expectation in 2020, third-best among tight ends behind only Tyler Higbee and George Kittle. In 2019, he led tight ends with a whopping +3.8 yards after catch per reception versus expectation.

Hands

Over the past two seasons, Smith recorded 76 receptions while dropping only three passes, giving him an excellent drop rate of 3.8%. The 2020 average for tight ends was 6.2%.

Red zone

Smith tied for fifth in the NFL with eight touchdown receptions in the red zone, which also ranked second among tight ends (Travis Kelce led with 10). He was hyper-efficient, pulling in those eight scores across 18 red zone targets, a 44.4% rate that squashes the 2020 league average of 27.1%. For his career, Smith has scored on 12 of his 32 red zone targets, a 37.5% rate.

Contested catches

Throughout his career, Smith has hauled in 20 of 40 “contested” targets, as tracked by PFF. That 50.0% rate slightly edges the 2020 average for tight ends (48.2%). He’s been trusted to make those catches at a high frequency: 23.7% of Smith’s career targets have been considered contested, much higher than the 2020 positional average of 18.4%. In 2020, 29.2% of Smith’s targets were contested, the third-highest rate among qualified tight ends (trailing Tyler Eifert and Mike Gesicki).

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Overall per-play efficiency

Smith’s production on a per-play basis suggests he is poised to become a star if given more opportunities.

In 2020, Smith ranked 25th among tight ends in routes run (300) but 20th in receiving yards (448), placing at the position’s 76th percentile in yards per route run (1.49). In 2019, Smith ranked 19th in receiving yards (439) despite running the 33rd-most routes (240), ranking at the 89th percentile with 1.83 yards per route run.

From 2018-20, Smith averaged 8.2 yards per target, ninth-best among the 38 tight ends with at least 100 targets over that span. He placed sixth among the group with 14 touchdowns despite landing at 26th with 139 targets, leading the pack with a touchdown on 10.1% of his targets.

Age and durability

Smith will turn 26 years old in August. He is the youngest impending free agent tight end among the 28 who played at least 200 snaps last year.

Throughout his career, Smith has played in 66 out of 70 (94.3%) possible regular season and playoff games for the Titans. He missed one game with a knee injury in 2020 and did not miss any games in 2019 or 2017. In 2018, Smith was placed on injured reserve for the final three weeks of the season due to another knee injury.

Negatives

Pass protection

Smith has given up 25 pressures over 247 career snaps in pass protection, a rate of 10.1% that is well above the 2020 positional average (6.9%). He gave up six pressures over 53 protection snaps in 2020 (11.3% rate).

Interestingly enough, the Titans still used Smith as a pass blocker relatively frequently despite his struggles in that area. Smith stayed in to pass block on 13.9% of his passing game snaps in 2020, ranking eighth-highest out of the 34 tight ends with 40+ targets. In 2019, Smith ranked second as he pass-blocked on 21.6% of his passing game snaps.

Smith’s new team would be wise to decrease his playing time as a pass protector and focus on getting him as many pass-catching reps as possible.

Run blocking

Smith participated in a run-heavy Titans offense that thrived at running the ball outside behind Derrick Henry, but his individual run blocking grades at PFF have never been very good:

  • 2020: 61.4 run blocking grade (49th percentile among TEs with 100+ blocking snaps)
  • 2019: 52.4 run blocking grade (36th percentile)
  • 2018: 56.8 run blocking grade (35th percentile)
  • 2017: 57.0 run blocking grade (30th percentile)
Playoff struggles

Over six career playoff games, Smith has caught just 11 of 17 targets for only 87 yards and one touchdown, averaging a measly 14.5 yards per game on 5.1 yards per target. In the 2020 Wild Card loss to Baltimore, Smith caught 2-of-3 targets for 9 yards and no first downs.

Lack of high-end production

While Smith’s per-play efficiency suggests he should have a good chance of becoming a top 5-10 tight end with more opportunities, that’s all just projection. We haven’t seen him do that yet.

Smith has ranked no higher than 19th among tight ends in receiving yards in a given season. His unremarkable numbers of 448 yards and 29.9 yards per game in 2020 were career-highs. He has not had a 100-yard game in his career and has only had nine games in which he was targeted 6+ times.

This isn’t a major problem – Smith simply has not gotten the chance to be a fantasy football legend in Tennessee’s run-first offense that also favors the wide receivers in the passing game – but it is worth noting that Smith’s new team will be paying the big bucks in hopes that he can extrapolate his efficiency without anything to go off of that guarantees he is capable of doing so.

Film


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Sean Bird
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Sean Bird

I would suggest that we should have release tracker for notable release players across the league. I don’t think many people know that a lot of notable players are being released.

elehtis
Member
elehtis

Great idea. The free agent situation this year is going to be uniquely wild. Jets are in position to transform the roster thanks to JD’s approach last year (small money 1-year deals).

elehtis
Member
elehtis

IMVHO Jets’ interest in Smith will depend on how much they value run-blocking at the TE position. I suspect they will place a premium on that as well as raw receiving talent. Smith reminds me of a more fully realized Herndon, so I could see them going in the direction of Gerald Everett instead. And as noted by another poster, there’s going to be a ton of vet talent available due to the extraordinary cap space challenges most teams are facing. Not the Jets! JD has put himself into perfect position to vastly improve the team this off-season.