Jonnu Smith’s fantasy outlook and projection for 2021

At a position that mightly struggles for weekly upside, should you draft Jonnu Smith with his fantasy outlook and ADP in 2021?

As one of the most athletic tight ends in the NFL, Jonnu Smith is a constant threat to rattle off significant plays on Sundays. But can Smith find a prominent enough role on the New England Patriots to justify his ADP, or has his fantasy football outlook taken a massive blow?

Jonnu Smith’s fantasy outlook for 2021

Is it weird that despite Smith showing incredible upside, I felt disappointed? As my breakout TE of 2020, I had high expectations for the uber-athletic TE. And for a while, he was even exceeding my bold fantasy prediction of TE6.

In the first five weeks of 2020, Smith was tied for the league lead in touchdowns (5). He was ninth in receptions amongst tight ends with 18 (27 targets). His 221 yards in four games was eighth for the position. Averaging 12.28 yards per reception, Smith was the TE4 in fantasy while averaging an absurd 17.5 ppg (second-best ppg total).

Smith was used more as a blocker after a significant injury to OT

But then the inconsistency began. After a torn ACL suffered by Taylor Lewan, Smith was moved inline as a blocker.

In his final 11 games, Smith caught 23 of his 38 targets for 227 yards and 3 touchdowns. He went from averaging 6.8 targets, 4.5 receptions, and 55.3 yards per game to 3.5 targets, 2.1 receptions, and 20.6 yards. As a result, he was the TE23 over this stretch, averaging 6.4 ppg and ending the season as the TE16 (9.3 ppg).

Smith scored a massive contract with the Patriots in the offseason. It would’ve been great if they hadn’t signed Hunter Henry as well. While it hurt Smith’s ceiling, you don’t invest that kind of money in someone to hide them.

I expect to see a heavy dosage of 12 personnel in 2021, which also fits what Cam Newton wants to do. In 2020, 46.1% (171 attempts) were less than 10 yards down the field. That would place Smith directly where his eyes will be when he drops back. Even with Mac Jones, who thrives on quick, accurate passes, Smith can succeed. 

While I don’t think he will be a top-six tight end again in 2021, there is a path where Smith’s fantasy outlook could lead him to be a low-end TE1.

Fantasy projection

The Patriots are going to be a better offense and team in general in 2021. Not only did the offense struggle but they had eight players on defense opt-out. Throw in a brand new QB and a shortened offseason, and it’s not hard to see why they struggled at times.

I’m not trying to make excuses for them, but I think it needs to be at least considered. If we look at their previous five-year average, the stats paint a clear picture. From 2015 to 2019, New England averaged 27.8 points on 66.8 plays per game. Moreover, the Patriots averaged 37 passing attempts for 269.2 yards. 

In 2020, points (20.4 ppg) and plays (61.2 per game) fell, and passing slid to just 27.5 attempts and 180.6 yards. It could have been even uglier if not for the fourth-best rushing offense (31.4 attempts for 146.6 yards).

Even after adding Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, the wide receiver corps is still one of the weaker ones in the NFL. If they are going to find success in the air (which they struggled with last year), the tight ends will play a massive role.

I see Smith leading New England’s tight ends and could end up leading the receivers as well for fantasy with a projection around 70-75 targets and 55 receptions for about 650-680 yards and 4-5 touchdowns.

Jonnu Smith’s fantasy ADP

Injury has led to Smith’s ADP fluctuating during the preseason. It has been an up-and-down offseason for the new Patriots tight end. However, since suffering an ankle injury on August 15 he has returned to the field for practice. These injuries could be a benefit for anyone looking to draft Smith. They have pushed his price down, but durability remains a concern going forward.

According to Sleeper, Smith has an ADP of 149.1 in half PPR formats. Meanwhile, in NFC (a high-stakes fantasy platform), Smith with a 136.1 ADP. On Fleaflicker, his ADP is the lowest of the lot at 159.

Should you draft Smith in fantasy in 2021?

Look, tight end depth is in shambles. We thought both Henry and Smith would either re-sign with their respective teams or land in a spot where both will remain reliable players. However, the worst-case scenario is what played out in free agency, with both going to the same team. Apparently, Bill Belichick hates fun. I know, shocker.

It all comes down to two things: 1) Do you think the Patriots signed both players as a sign of them wanting to run more 12 personnel after a league-low 2% in 2020 (22 snaps)? 2) If not, who will be the “inline” tight end and red-zone threat? 

I just can’t see a world where the Patriots commit $87.4 million to two players and not get every single cent of return out of them. If I am going to ride with one in 2021, that’s going to be Smith. I believe he will outperform his TE16-18 ADP and be a fringe TE1. Once you are past the top-tier players at TE in drafts, shoot for upside or athleticism — something Smith has plenty of in 2021.

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